Margaret Somerville - In Conversation

Presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at UniSA

In association with Melbourne University Press

Monday 21 May 2007
ASO Grainger Studio, 91 Hindley Street - 5.45pm for 6.00pm start

Margaret SomervilleInternationally renowned Australian ethicist Dr Margaret SomervilleIn Conversation’ with Michael Jacobs, freelance journalist, writer and legal researcher. 

Margaret is a controversial public figure and high profile media performer.  Her views are regularly sought across the media on subjects of same-sex marriage, surrogacy, stem cell research, reproductive technologies, genetic modification and euthanasia as well as the broader topics of politics and science, nature and environment. 

She is provocative and erudite, and well-known for her readiness to debate the tough moral questions:

  • Same-sex Marriage: ‘Giving same-sex couples the right to found a family unlinks parenthood from biology’
  • Politics: ‘Lack of trust in politics is not one-sided. Politicians don’t trust the public to be wise enough to hear the truth.’
  • Stem cells: ‘To create embryos other than by sexual reproduction is inherently wrong’
  • Science: ‘What would happen if we replaced the two percent of the genes in the chimpanzee with the relevant human genes? What is this creature—a human, a chimpanzee or neither’
  • Ethics: ‘Sometimes it can be more courageous to say no rather than yes’


Dr Margaret Somerville is the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics, and Law at McGill University, where she holds the Samuel Gale Chair in the Faculty of Law and is a professor in the Faculty of Medicine. Dr Somerville was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and received a A.u.A. (pharm.) from the University of Adelaide in 1963, a Bachelor of Law degree (Hons. I) from the University of Sydney in 1973, and a D.C.L. from McGill University in 1978. From 1963 to 1969, she was a registered pharmacist in South Australia, Victoria, New Zealand, and New South Wales. After returning to University and receiving her law degree she became an attorney for a Sydney, Australia law firm, Mallesons (as it then was) (formerly Stephen, Jacques and Stephen; now Mallesons Stephen Jaques) from 1974 to 1975.

In 1978, Dr Somerville was appointed an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at McGill University. She was appointed an Associate Professor in 1979 and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine in 1980. In 1984, she became a Full Professor of the Faculty of Medicine and in 1989 was appointed the Samuel Gale Professor of Law. From 1986 to 1996, she was the founding Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law and was appointed acting Director in 1999.

Dr Somerville is a Member of the Order of Australia "for service to the law and to bioethics". In 1991, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2004, she was awarded UNESCO's Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science. She has received honorary degrees from the University of Windsor (1992), Macquarie University (1993), and St. Francis Xavier University (1996). Her most recent honorary degree was awarded in 2006 at Ryerson University in Toronto. In November 2006, she gave the annual Massey Lectures on CBC Radio in Canada. The five lectures were published in book form as The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit. She is widely published and a regular commentator on ethical issues and dilemmas in modern society and her ethical opposition to same-sex marriages is perhaps among the most controversial of her views. She lives in Montreal, Canada.

Michael Jacobs is an Adelaide journalist, writer and legal researcher. He began working as a journalist in 1969, and has been writing mainly about politics, public policy issues, and legal subjects since he first reported on Australian federal politics in 1971. He provided material for David Solomon’s and Laurie Oakes’s study of the 1972 election, The Making of an Australian Prime Minister. At various times he has written for The Canberra Times, Nation Review, The Advertiser and The Age as well as doing news commentaries and talks for the ABC. At present he is mostly published in The Adelaide Review, concentrating on State political, legal and public policy issues, with occasional ventures into national and international topics. For several years he wrote the Mind Your Language column for that paper.

Apart from his journalism, he also has extensive practical experience in public policy development and legislative reform for previous South Australian governments, and has spent some years in legal practice. At present, he is engaged part-time in research for the State Parliament’s Economics and Finance Committee, which is inquiring into pay-day lending practices and into the private mortgage-lending market and its associated investment schemes. He spends many weekends in a vineyard