John B Dossetor 1925-2020

Tribute to John B. Dossetor

It is with sadness that we share the passing of our founder, Dr. John Beamish Dossetor (1925-2020).

John Dossetor passed away on Monday, April 6, 2020 in his 95th year. The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre recognizes him not only as a celebrated physician and bioethicist for his pioneering work in kidney transplantation and health ethics. He was also a teacher, colleague, and friend to past and current faculty, staff and community members.

We remember John for his extraordinary capacity to reach out and connect with people. He had an uncanny ability to relate to people, to make others feel respected and valued. Without fail, someone who met or worked with John at some point in their lives will be able to recount a story that, almost without exception, expressed his kindness and thoughtfulness. John epitomized the humanity and responsibility that we hope practitioners engaged in health ethics embody, and also the ethical practice of physicians, nurses, social workers, and other caring professionals. Even though it has been some years since John worked at the Dossetor Centre, we know his influence as a person will never be forgotten, and serve as inspiration for future health professionals.

In the span of his career, John Dossetor had 295 medical/scientific publications as well as authored and co-authored 10 books. His last book, Beyond the Hippocratic Oath, served as a reflective memoir of the evolution of modern medicine and bioethics. In 1958, he made Canadian medical history at McGill University by coordinating the first kidney transplant from a living donor in Canada and the British Commonwealth. John received numerous awards for his contributions. He received the 125th Canadian Confederation commemorative medal for his work with the Kidney Foundation of Canada in 1992, and he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada for his achievements in the fields of medicine and bioethics in 1995. He was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Gold Medal in 2003, and the Canadian Medical Association’s Dr. William Marsden Award in Medical Ethics in 2007. Finally, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 from the Canadian Bioethics Society. Outside his talents as a physician and many great accomplishments, he was a truly kind and remarkable man.

The John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre bears its name in honour of John’s outstanding contributions to health ethics at the University of Alberta and in Canada. 

A Personal Tribute from Vangie Bergum (JDHEC Director 1997-2004) 

It was early in the 1990’s when I approached Dr. John Dossetor to ask if I might work with him at the Ethics Centre. Not only did he enthusiastically welcome me but offered me an office just down the hall from his in the Aberhardt Nurses Residence! For the next fifteen years I had the privilege of working along side him. He taught me through his example. Memories include: long talks in the hallway between his office and mine, after we had picked up our morning coffee; teaching an interdisciplinary ethics class together for graduate students; and completing a SSHRCC funded interdisciplinary research project which ended with a book Relational Ethics: The full meaning of respect.

It is his respect that I remember most about him: respect for patients, for students, for clinicians, for academics, for staff, and for anyone who wanted to discuss their own complex ethical dilemmas. He was a thoughtful and gracious man. An inspiration. He is missed. I miss him.