John Keown, DPhil, PhD, DCL

Senior Research Scholar,
Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics

Dr. John Keown is the Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics.He graduated in law from Cambridge and took a doctorate in law at Oxford, after which he was called to the Bar of England and Wales (Middle Temple). After a spell teaching medical and criminal law at the University of Leicester, he became the first holder of a lectureship in the law and ethics of medicine at Cambridge, where he was elected to a Fellowship at Queens' College and, later, a Senior Research Fellowship at Churchill College. In 2015 he was made a Doctor of Civil Law by the University of Oxford in recognition of his contribution to law and bioethics.He has published widely in the law and ethics of medicine, specializing in issues at the beginning and end of life. The second and heavily revised edition of his widely acclaimed book Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legalisation was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.His research has been cited by distinguished bodies worldwide, including the United States Supreme Court; the Law Lords; the House of Commons; the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, and the Australian Senate. In 2011 he testified as an expert witness for Canada in a leading case concerning the country’s laws against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. He has served as a member of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association and has been regularly consulted, not least by legislators and the media, on legal and ethical aspects of medicine.Author of the first paper to demonstrate comprehensively that the American War for Independence failed to satisfy all (if any) of the criteria for a ‘just war’ (and was, therefore, an unjust revolution), he has also written a play based on one of the classic cases in law and bioethics: the trial of Dr. Leonard Arthur for the attempted murder of a newborn baby with Down's syndrome.

Did you know?

Continuing a long tradition of public service on issues of end-of-life care, Dr. Keown recently spoke at the National Academies of the Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Workshop on Physician-Assisted Death, where he discussed the legal and regulatory landscape of terminal illness. (Feb. 12, 2018)

Learn more about the talk »



  • Abortion, Doctors and the Law: Some Aspects of the Legal Regulation of Abortion in England from 1803 to 1982 (CUP, 1988)
  • Euthanasia Examined: Ethical, Clinical and Legal Perspectives (CUP, 1995; reprinted twice 1996; paperback edition 1997; reprinted 1998; 2000; Spanish edition, Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico, 2004.)
  • Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation (CUP, 2002; 2nd edition, 2018)
  • Debating Euthanasia (with Emily Jackson; Hart Publishing, 2012)
  • The Law and Ethics of Medicine: Essays on the Inviolability of Human Life (OUP, 2012)
  • Reason, Morality and Law: The Philosophy of John Finnis (edited with RP George; OUP, 2013)
  • Bioethics and the Human Goods (with Alfonso Gómez-Lobo; Georgetown University Press, 2015; translated into Spanish as La Bioética y Los Bienes Humanos (Ediciones UC & Georgetown University Press, 2018)


  • 'Considering Physician-Assisted Suicide: an evaluation of Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill' (Carenotkillingalliance, 2006)
  • ‘Person, Chattel or Dolphin? The Legal Status of the Human In Vitro Embryo’ (winner of the Ver Heyden de Lancey Prize, University of Cambridge, 1990)

chapters in books

  • ‘Some Reflections on Euthanasia in The Netherlands’ in Luke Gormally (ed), The Dependent Elderly (CUP, 1992) 70-100
  • 'Down the Slippery Slope?: Further Reflections on Euthanasia in the Netherlands in the light of the Remmelink Report and the van der Maas Survey' in Luke Gormally (ed) Euthanasia, Clinical Practice and the Law (The Linacre Centre, 1994) 219-240
  • 'The Case of Sue Rodriguez: a Charter for Euthanasia?' in Kenneth Lee (ed) Health Care Systems in Canada and the UK: Can they Deliver? (Proceedings of the 1993 Canada - UK Colloquium organised by the Canadian Department of External Affairs and the Foreign Office, Ryburn Press, 1994) 103-115
  • 'Euthanasia in The Netherlands: Sliding Down the Slippery Slope?' in John Keown (ed) Euthanasia Examined (1995) 261-296
  • 'Law, Ethics and the Elderly: Worthless Treatment or Worthless Lives?' in RB Shukla (ed) A Guide to Care of the Elderly (HMSO, 1996) 327-331
  • 'The Tragic Truth about Dutch Death' in John Morgan (ed) An Easeful Death? (The Federation Press, 1996) 172-185
  • ‘The Legal Revolution: From “Sanctity of Life” to “Quality of Life” and “Autonomy”’ in Luke Gormally (ed), Issues for a Catholic Bioethic (Linacre Centre, 1999) 233-260
  • ‘The incompetent patient: sanctity of life, quality of life and vitalism’ in Michael Parker and Donna Dickenson (eds), The Cambridge Medical Ethics Workbook (CUP, 2001) 27-32
  • 'Rationing, Justice and Ageism' in KW Fulford, D L Dickenson and TH Murray (eds) The Blackwell Reader in Healthcare Ethics and Human Values (Blackwell, 2002)
  • ‘Dehydrating Bodies: The Bland Case, The Winterton Bill and the importance of intention in evaluating end-of-life decision-making’ in Andrew Bainham, Shelley Day Sclater and Martin Richards (eds), Body Lore and the Law (Hart, 2002) 249-264
  • ‘Defending the Council of Europe’s Opposition to Euthanasia’ in SAM McLean (ed), First Do No Harm (Ashgate, 2006) (also in German in Hans Thomas (ed), Arzliche Freiheit und Berufsethos (Verlag JH Roll, 2005) 231-55)
  • ‘Eugenics and the Law’ in J Lafitte and I Carrasco de Paula (eds), The New Frontiers of Genetics and the Risk of Eugenics (Proceedings of the 15th Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, 2009, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano (2010))
  • ‘Five Flawed Arguments for Euthanasia’ in Amel Alghrani, Rebecca Bennett and Suzanne Ost (eds), Bioethics, Medicine and the Criminal Law (CUP, 2012) 30-48
  • ‘Williams v Kamisar on Euthanasia: A Classic Debate Revisited’ in Dennis Baker and Jeremy Horder (eds) The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law: the Legacy of Glanville Williams (CUP, 2013)
  • 'Debating Euthanasia: A Reply to Emily Jackson' in M Henaghan & J Wall (eds), Law, Ethics and Medicine: Essays in Honour of Peter Skegg (Wellington, Thomson Reuters, 2016)
  • 'Medical Law, Ethical Coherence, and the Beginning and Ending of Life' in Jonathan Herring et al, The Philosophical Foundations of Medical Law (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)


  • '''Miscarriage'': a Medico-Legal Analysis' [1984] Criminal Law Review 604-614
  • 'Selective Reduction of Multiple Pregnancy' (1987) 137 New Law Journal 1165-1166
  • 'Grave Doubt', The Guardian, 17 July 1987
  • 'Selective Reduction', The Guardian, 1 October 1987
  • 'The Scope of the Offence of Child Destruction' (1988) 104 Law Quarterly Review 120-142
  • 'AIDS: Should it be a Notifiable Disease?' (1989) 5(4) Professional Negligence 121-124
  • 'The Ashes of AIDS and the Phoenix of Informed Consent' (1989) 52 Modern Law Review 790- 800
  • 'Dutch Slide Down Euthanasia's Slippery Slope', The Wall Street Journal, 5 November 1991
  • 'Some Reflections on the Law Relating to Euthanasia in England and The Netherlands' (1991) 41(6) Catholic Medical Quarterly 266-271
  • 'Roe v Wade: A Historic Error?’ in The World & I (May 1992) 472-475
  • 'The Law and Practice of Euthanasia in The Netherlands' (1992) 108 Law Quarterly Review 51-78 (translated into Japanese in (1995) 11(2) Sapporo Gakuin Law Review 153)
  • 'The Polkinghorne Report on Fetal Research: Nice Recommendations, Shame about the Reasoning' (1993) 19 Journal of Medical Ethics 114-120
  • ' ''Advance Directives'': a Legal and Ethical Outline' in (1993) 7(7) Trusts & Estates 54-56
  • 'A Decade of Dutch Euthanasia' (1994) 44(4) Catholic Medical Quarterly 1-11
  • 'Advance Directives Revisited' (1994) Legal Executive (Christmas 1994 Charities Guide) 6-10.
  • 'Euthanasia in the Netherlands: Sliding Down the Slippery Slope?' in (1995) 9 (2) Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 407-448
  • (with Dr DV Keown, Goldsmiths’ College, London) ‘Killing, Karma and Caring: Euthanasia in Buddhism and Christianity’ (1995) 21(5) Journal of Medical Ethics 265-269
  • 'Doctor Knows Best?: The Rise and Rise of the Bolam Test' (1995) Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 342-364
  • 'Abortion for Blindness' (1995) 9(1) Eye (editorial in the Journal of the Royal College of Opthalmic Surgeons)
  • 'Can one Murder a Foetus?' (1995) 139(36) Solicitors Journal 914
  • 'Why Die Stupidly?' (1995) 9(11) Priests and People 423-427
  • 'To Treat or Not to Treat?: Autonomy, Beneficence and the Sanctity of Life' (1995) 16 Singapore Law Review 360-375
  • 'Euthanasia: Towards a European Consensus?' (1996) 47(3) International Digest of Health Legislation 394-396
  • 'The Gift of Blood in Europe: An Ethical Defence of EC Directive 89/381' (1997) 23(2) Journal of Medical Ethics 96-100
  • 'The Euthanasia Debate in England' (1997) 1-2 Journal International de Bioethique 55-63
  • 'Euthanasia in England: Courts, Committees and Consistency' (1997) 16 (4) Medicine and Law 199-206
  • 'Uscire dalla ''via mediana'': La depenalizzazione giudiziaria dell'eutanasia passiva non volontaria' ['Straying from the Middle Way: the Judicial Decriminalisation of Passive, Non-Voluntary Euthanasia'] (1997) 2 Bioetica 313-318
  • 'Restoring Moral and Intellectual Shape to the Law after Bland' (1997) 113 Law Quarterly Review 481-503 (translated into Japanese in the Sapporo Gakuin Law Review, March 1999)
  • ‘Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Beyond Control?’ Policy Options Politiques (1997) 18(10) 25-29
  • ‘Life for a Life?’ (1998) 48 Catholic Medical Quarterly 4-5 (editorial)
  • ‘The Legal Revolution: From “Sanctity of Life” to “Quality of Life” and “Autonomy”’ in (1998) 14(2) Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy 253-285
  • ‘A Reply to McLachlan’ (1998) 24 Journal of Medical Ethics 255-256
  • ‘“Double Effect” and Palliative Care: A Legal and Ethical Outline’ (1999) 15(2) Ethics & Medicine 523-524
  • (with H Jochemsen) ‘Voluntary Euthanasia under Control? Further Empirical Evidence from the Netherlands’ (1999) 25(1) Journal of Medical Ethics 16-21
  • (with K Clark, A Fisher, W Neville), ‘Early induction of labour: ethical and legal considerations’ (1999) 66(2) The Linacre Quarterly 7-25
  • ‘Human Dignity, Autonomy and Mentally-Incapacitated Patients: A Critique of Who Decides?’ [1999] 4 Web Journal of Current Legal Issues [link]
  • ‘Protecting Patients’ (2000) 150 New Law Journal 117
  • ‘Beyond Bland: a critique of the BMA guidance on withholding and withdrawing medical treatment’ (2000) 20(1) Legal Studies 66-84
  • ‘The Case of Ms B: suicide’s slippery slope?’ (2002) 28 Journal of Medical Ethics 238-239
  • ‘Death in Strasbourg: Assisted Suicide, the Pretty case, and the European Convention on Human Rights’ (2003) 1(4) International Journal of Constitutional Law 722-730
  • ‘Medical Murder by Omission? The law and ethics of withholding and withdrawing treatment and tube feeding’ (2003) 3(5) Journal of the Royal College of Physicians 460-463.
  • ‘A Futile Defence of Bland: A Reply to Andrew McGee’ (2005) 13 Medical Law Review 393-402
  • ‘“Morning after” pills, “miscarriage” and muddle’ (2005) 2 Legal Studies 296-319
  • ‘Mr Marty’s muddle: a superficial and selective case for euthanasia in Europe’ (2006) 32 Journal of Medical Ethics 29-33.
  • ‘Restoring the Sanctity of Life and Replacing the Caricature: A Reply to David Price’ (2006) 26(1) Legal Studies 109-119.
  • ‘Back to the Future of Abortion Law: Roe’s Rejection of America’s History and Traditions’ (2006) 22(1) Issues in Law & Medicine 3-37
  • ‘Physician-Assisted Suicide: Lord Joffe’s Slippery Bill’ (2007) 15 Medical Law Review 126-135
  • (with Professor David Jones) ‘Surveying the Foundations of Medical Law: A Reassessment of Glanville Williams’ The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law’ (2008) 16(1) Medical Law Review 85-126
  • ‘Should We Legalize Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide? A Review of the Ethical Arguments and of the Empirical Evidence from the Netherlands and Oregon’ (Family Research Council, Washington DC, 2008) [link]
  • ‘Double Effect’ and ‘Persistent Vegetative State’ Peter Cane and Joanne Conaghan (eds) The New Oxford Companion to Law (OUP, 2008)
  • ‘America’s War for Independence: Just or Unjust?’ (2009) 6(2) Journal of Catholic Social Thought 277-304
  • ‘[Debbie Purdy]: In need of assistance?’ New Law Journal 2nd October 2009, vol 159, 1340-1341
  • ‘Dangerous Guidance’ New Law Journal, 11th December 2009, vol 159, 1718
  • ‘Assisted suicide must not be legalised through the back door’ The Daily Telegraph, 25th February, 2010 [link]
  • ‘America’s Unjust Revolution: A Rejoinder to Mark Tooley’ American Spectator, 18th August 2010 [link]
  • ‘America’s Unjust Revolution: A Second Rejoinder to Mark Tooley’ American Spectator, 27th August 2010 [link]
  • ‘America’s Unjust Revolution: What British Tyranny?’ [link]
  • 'A Right to Voluntary Euthanasia? Confusion in Canada in Carter' 28 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 1-45. Also appears in: Assisted Death: Legal, Social and Ethical Issues after Carter [link]
  • 'Voluntary Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide: Should the WMA Drop its Opposition?' (2016) 62(3) World Medical Journal 21-25
  • 'Carter: A Stain on Canadian Jurisprudence?' in Derek B.M.Ross (ed), (2018) 85 Supreme Court Law Review (2d.) 1 - 34
  • "'Voluntary Assisted Dying' in Victoria: The Parliamentary Committee’s Tenuous Case for Legalization", (2018) 33(1Issues in Law & Medicine 55 - 81
  • ‘The Irish Referendum: From Equal Protection to a Charter for Abortion’ National Review, 29 May 2018
  • ‘Tutu, Carey and the Legalization of Euthanasia’ Christian Bioethics (forthcoming)

review article

  • 'On Regulating Death' (1992) 22(2) Hastings Center Report 39-43

case commentaries

  • 'Gold, Kay and the Limits of Medical Liability' [1988] 4(1) Professional Negligence 1-4
  • 'Abortion, Conscientious Objection and the Law' [1988] 8(2) Litigation 47-53
  • 'Abortion, Conscientious Objection and the House of Lords' [1989] 8(3) Litigation 110-113
  • 'Hard Case, Bad Law, ''New'' Ethics' [1993] 52 Cambridge Law Journal 209-212
  • 'Burying Bolam: Informed Consent Down Under' [1994] 53 Cambridge Law Journal 16-19
  • 'No Charter for Euthanasia' [1994] 53 Cambridge Law Journal 234-236
  • 'Applying Bland' [1994] 53 Cambridge Law Journal 456-458
  • 'Easing the Burdens on Medical Plaintiffs?' [1995] 54 Cambridge Law Journal 30-32
  • 'Physician-assisted suicide and the Dutch Supreme Court' (1995) 111 Law Quarterly Review 394- 396
  • 'Life and Death in Dublin' [1996] 55 Cambridge Law Journal 6-8
  • 'Homicide, Fetuses and Appendages' [1996] 55 Cambridge Law Journal 207-209
  • 'Life after Death’ [1997] 56 Cambridge Law Journal 270-272
  • ‘No Constitutional Right to Assisted Suicide?’ [1997] 56 Cambridge Law Journal 506-509
  • ‘Homicide by Prenatal Assault Revisited’ [1998] 57 Cambridge Law Journal 240-241
  • ‘Reining in the Bolam Test’ [1998] 57 Cambridge Law Journal 248-250
  • ‘Funding “Sex-Change” Operations’ [2000] 59 Cambridge Law Journal 257-259
  • ‘Dehydration and Human Rights’ [2001] 60 Cambridge Law Journal 53-56

book reviews

  • S McLean and G Maher, Medicine, Morals and the Law and JK Mason and RA McCall Smith, Law and Medical Ethics in (1983) 78/79 Law & Justice 105-110
  • WB Bondeson et al (eds) Abortion and the Status of the Fetus in (1984) 6(2) Sociology of Health & Illness 245-246
  • B Brookes, Abortion in Britain, 1900-1967 and A & AT McLaren, The Bedroom and the State in (1989) 2(1) Journal of the Social History of Medicine 113-114
  • C Shalev, Birth Power: The Case for Surrogacy and SAM McLean (ed) Legal Issues in Human Reproduction in (1990) 41(4) International Digest of Health Legislation 749-752
  • Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion (1994) 110 Law Quarterly Review 671-675
  • British Medical Association, Medical Ethics Today (1994) 6(1) The Care Review 14-15
  • FK Beller and RF Weir (eds) The Beginning of Human Life (1995) 2 European Journal of Health Law 989-991
  • I Kennedy and A Grubb (eds) Medical Law: Text With Materials (2nd ed, 1994) [1995] 54 Cambridge Law Journal 190-192
  • Neil Vidmar, Medical Malpractice and the American Jury [1997] 56 Cambridge Law Review 225- 226
  • Michael D Green, Bendectin and Birth Defects: The Challenges of Mass Toxic Substances Litigation [1997] 56 Cambridge Law Journal 226-228
  • Margaret Otlowski, Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law [1998] 57 Cambridge Law Journal 209-211
  • Edward J Larson and Darrel W Amundsen, A Different Death (1998-99) XIII (2) Journal of Law and Religion 417-421
  • David C Thomasma et al, Asking to Die: Inside the Dutch Debate about Euthanasia [2000] 59 Cambridge Law Journal 214-216
  • Ian Kennedy and Andrew Grubb, Principles of Medical Law [2000] 59 Cambridge Law Journal 412-414
  • Margaret Battin, Rosamund Rhodes and Anita Silvers (eds), Physician-Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate 2000 26(4) Journal of Medical Ethics 291
  • David C Thomasma et al, Asking to Die [2000] 59 Cambridge Law Journal 214-216
  • David Price, Legal and Ethical Aspects of Organ Transplantation, (2002) 61(1) Cambridge Law Journal 215-217
  • Margaret Somerville, Death Talk; Herbert Hendin and Kathleen Foley, The Case against Assisted Suicide (2003) 62 Cambridge Law Journal 215-217
  • Dolores Christie, Last Rights: A Catholic Perspective on End-of-Life Decisions (2004) The Tablet 258 (8556) 21-22
  • David Jones, The Soul of the Embryo (2005) The Tablet 259 (8574) 20
  • ‘Abortion Distortion. A Review of Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History by Joseph W Dellapenna’ (2007) 35(2) Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 325-328
  • Robert Young, Medically Assisted Death, Notre Dame Philosophical Review (28 June 2008) [link]
  • PDG Skegg and Ron Paterson (eds), Medical Law in New Zealand (2010) 18(2) Medical Law Review 256-259
  • Rita Joseph, Human Rights and the Unborn Child (2010) [link]
  • David Albert Jones et al (eds), Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium (2017) The Tablet (13 December 2018)