Catholic ethics voice silenced

Faithful witness

The bioethicist Nicholas Tonti-Filippini died this month, aged 58, after a long battle against chronic auto-immune disease. The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, offers a personal remembrance.

Nicholas Tonti-Filippini 1956- 2014

- ABC Religion and Ethics

I knew Nick for nearly half my life and when I reflect upon those years I am deeply grateful for his and wife Mary's friendship and support for my vocation as a Christian, religious, priest, bishop and ethicist. 

When I first met Nick I was a young Dominican student and he was a strange new phenomenon in Australia: an institutional bioethicist.

His St Vincent's Bioethics Centre was becoming famous around the world as well as in Australia, and Nick became a household name as a series of bioethical waves hit our shores and the media turned, more often than not, to Nick for comment.

I remember well attending and learning so much at his St Vincent's Bioethics Conferences. By being a water boy, microphone porter and general dogsbody, I was able to attend for free. Later, the annual National Colloquium for Catholic Bioethicists continued this tradition of Melbourne bioethics conferences established by Nick, though I no longer have to attend as water boy.

Nick was for decades a leading light among Australian Catholic bioethicists and the best known Catholic voice in this area in Australia. He contributed to public debate, conferences and publications, and gave wise counsel to church leaders and laity, Catholic or not. For many years his contribution as a public bioethicist was recognised, not just by the Church, but by civil society.

He advised on legislation and regulation, served on various National Health and Medical Research Council and other government working parties in Australia and overseas, and counselled political leaders.

Among his many expert involvements he chaired the Research Committee for Matercare International and was a founding member of the Board of Directors for Matercare Australia. He was a founding member of both the International and the Australian Associations of Catholic Bioethicists. He also made a long contribution to marriage education, sexuality education and Natural Family Planning in Australia.

In all this he seemed indomitable, despite his illness and despite the advances of the culture of death, which in his home state has even managed to legislate against the exercise of medical conscience.

Nick worked for the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference and, despite being up so close to us bishops, he did not lose his faith! Perhaps this reflects how deeply ingrained it was in his Italian genes, though I know he would have resisted any attempt at genetically engineering piety.

Read full articile with tributes by Anthony Fisher, Anna Krohn, Tracey Rowland, et al.: Fierce Humanity, Faithful Witness: In Memory of Nicholas Tonti-Filippini (ABC Religion and ethics)

Nicholas Tonti-Filippini Remembered for His Faith, Courage, Scholarship and Unquenchable Zest for Life (Sydney Catholic)

Leading anti-euthanasia advocate Nicholas Tonti-Filippini dies (The Age)

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