Somerville, Margaret A.

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Somerville, Margaret A.

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Margaret Anne Ganley was born in 1942 in Australia. Her father was George P. Ganley and her mother Gertrude Rowe Ganley. She married Peter Somerville in 1966. She graduated from the University of Adelaide in Pharmacy and the University of Sydney in Law. She continued her education in Canada where she received her PhD in Civil Law from McGill University in 1978. She joined McGill’s Faculty of Law as an assistant professor in 1978, became an associate professor in 1979 and was named as the Samuel Gale Professor of Law in 1989. Concurrently, she held appointments in the Faculty of Medicine as an associate professor in 1980 and as a full professor from 1984. In 1986 she became the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.


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Somerville is an internationally renowned figure in the development of applied ethics especially in regards to the areas of medicine and science. Through her research, numerous lectures and speeches, consultations, writings, and interaction with the media, she has examined the impact of science, and medicine on society through the prism of ethics. The issues that she has studied include euthanasia, AIDS, biotechnology, abortion, aging populations and human rights in relation to medical care. An ethical activist, she often engages in public debates on ethical issues. Her publications include The Ethical Canary: Science, Society and the Human Spirit, Death Talk: the Case against Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide and the 2006 CBC Massey Lectures publication, The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit.

Somerville has served as an expert consultant for a number of governmental organizations, including the United Nations and the Canadian government, and non- governmental agencies. She was the chair of the National Research Council’s Human Subject Research Ethics committee as well she has been a member of numerous other committees in the area of ethics. She has also served on editorial boards, foundation boards and advisory boards.

She holds several honorary doctorate degrees and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada as well as a member of the Order of Australia. She has received international awards recognizing her role in the pursuit of ethical issues including the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science.

Retiring August 31, 2016, after 40 years of service at McGill, Margaret Somerville returned to Australia, joining the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame Australia, where she will be involved in establishing a bioethics component to the MD program.

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