Two Scholars inducted into Pontifical Academy for Life

Two Senior Research Scholars, John Keown and Daniel Sulmasy, have received the high honor of being inducted as Ordinary Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (Pontificia Academia Pro Vita). The Academy was founded by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1994 and aims to promote and defend human life and dignity, especially in the bioethical context. Ordinary members are personally appointed by the Pope and serve for five year terms, which are renewable. 

The induction ceremony took place during the Academy’s meeting held October 5-7. Each year the Academy convenes in Rome to examine a particular topic in bioethics and usually involves a Papal audience in the Clementine Hall. The title of this year’s meeting was “Accompanying Life in the Technological Era”.

The Academy comprises experts from a range of relevant disciplines, including science, medicine, philosophy, theology and law. Members’ duties include research and the dissemination of their research for the benefit not only of the hierarchy but also of society at large. Members publish books and articles and attend the annual meeting. They also contribute to national and international debates on bioethical issues, such as the recent Charlie Gard case, which concerned the question whether an infant’s life-prolonging treatment should be discontinued against his parents’ wishes.

In 2016 Pope Francis expanded the Academy’s focus to include the intersection of human life and the environment and to include people of other faiths. “This expansion”, Keown said, “reflects a growing emphasis on the inter-relation between life, health and the environment, and also on constructive dialogue with people of all faiths and none”. He added: “One of the benefits of serving on the Academy is the opportunity to engage with experts from poorer parts of the world, where bioethical concerns are often different from those in the affluent West.”

Keown has published widely on the ethics and law and ethics of medicine, particularly at the beginning and end of life. He recently completed the second edition of his acclaimed book Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy, which will be published in 2018.

Sulmasy holds a joint appointment with the KIE and Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics. His interests encompass both theoretical and empirical investigations of the ethics of end-of-life decision making, ethics education, and spirituality in medicine. He has done extensive work on the role of intention in medical action, especially as it relates to the rule of double effect and the distinction between killing and allowing to die.

In addition to Keown and Sulmasy, Georgetown Professor Kevin T Fitzgerald was appointed as a Corresponding Member to the Academy.

Georgetown may be the only institution to boast three members of the Pontifical Academy.

Fitzgerald (left), Keown (center), and Sulmasy (right) outside St. Peter’s Basilica.