The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre has a rich history rooted in interdisciplinary collaboration in ethics education, research, and clinical service.

The Centre was founded in 1985 by the pioneering physician and bioethicist John Beamish Dossetor. As a member of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, Dossetor led an informal Innominate Committee composed of individuals from nursing (Janet Storch, Donna Smith), medicine (David Schiff), chaplaincy (Doug Cossor, Cullene Bryant), law (Ellen Picard, Margaret Shone), and philosophy (Glenn Griener). This group met regularly to discuss challenging clinical cases that exposed the ethics of decision-making. Over time, these meetings spurred planning for a health ethics centre. The Joint Faculties Bioethics Project was launched with the encouragement and support from the Presidents of the University of Alberta, the University Hospitals, the Deans of the health faculties, and the Medical Research Council of Canada in June 1986.

Over the subsequent years, the Joint Faculties Bioethics Project supported interdisciplinary ethics scholarship in education, research, and clinical service. For example, from the cooperation of John Dossetor in medicine, Glenn Griener in philosophy, and Tom Dailey in theology, a clinical ethics curriculum was developed in concert with clinical experts in various medical specialties. A collaborative conference with the Hastings Center bioethics research institute in 1989 was another highlight from these early years.

In 1990, bioethics was given official status with the creation of the Division of Bioethics. The Division and the Joint Faculties Bioethics Project comprised the Bioethics Centre. In January 1998, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to health ethics, the Centre was renamed The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre. The change to “health ethics” from “bioethics” indicated a broader focus on ethics across health domains than the more specialized, technical focus of bioethics.

Vangie Bergum, Faculty of Nursing, is a key figure in the history of the Dossetor Centre. Her research situated ethics within human relationships. She explored the experience of mothering, which led to two books: Woman to Mother. A Transformation (1989), and A Child on Her Mind. The Experience of Becoming a Mother (1997). Her exploration of relational ethics supported an interdisciplinary research project resulting in the 2005 book Relational Ethics. The Full Meaning of Respect (co-authored with Dossetor).

Paul Byrne, from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, has supported the Centre throughout his career at the University of Alberta in clinical ethics; education of students in medicine, nursing, and other health science disciplines; and research projects on such topics as ethical decision making in perinatal medicine.

Wendy Austin, from the Faculty of Nursing, explored core elements of relational ethics and their application in healthcare environments. Her research programs’ aims included identifying and exploring relational ethics issues in mental health, developing a relational ethics perspective on research ethics, exploring ways to prepare healthcare practitioners and researchers for ethical practice, and advancing the theoretical basis of relational ethics. Other key individuals from nursing include Janet Kerr, Donna Smith, and Jeanne Van Der Zalm.

Dick Sobsey, Educational Psychology, worked to improve healthcare, educational opportunities, and social conditions for people with disabilities and their families. He studied the changes in families that occur as a result of having a child with a significant disability, focusing on positive changes. And he explored ethical and human rights issues, particularly as they are related to people with disabilities.

Gary Goldsand, Brendan Leier, and other clinical ethicists have supported the development of ethics education, public engagement, and other centre activities. The Dossetor Centre is essentially linked to clinical ethics service delivery as members develop scholarship in ethics to clinical practice.

The Dossetor Centre would not have survived without the commitment and work of administrative leads such as Carol Nahorniak, who has managed the Centre over the years.

 The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre came under the aegis of the Coordinating Council of Health Sciences (renamed Health Sciences Council in 2001) until it moved under the Faculty of Medicine in 2010. Throughout its history, the Centre has benefited from interdisciplinary collaboration, including but not limited to, Nursing, Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine, Law, Philosophy, and Spiritual Care through its history. The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre (is the only interdisciplinary, academic ethics centre in Alberta, and one of the first in Canada.