AUSTRALIA’S “great defender of human life” Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini died in Melbourne on November 7, aged 58, after a lengthy battle with a chronic auto-immune disease.
Dr Tonti-Filippini was surrounded by his devoted wife Mary Tonti-Filippini and family.
His family said in an official statement made this afternoon that Dr Tonti-Filippini was “a valued brother and son, colleague, teacher, advisor and friend to many—he will be deeply missed”.
“We as a family are so blessed to have had Nicholas in our lives and are so proud of all he has achieved in faithful service to others, both personally and professionally,” the family said.
“We would like to thank the many who have offered prayers and support over the years of his illness and trust Christ will bring him into the light of his presence.”
Despite suffering from an acute terminal illness that eventually led to pancreatic complications in his finals hours, Dr Tonti-Filippini lived life to the full, establishing himself as a world-renowned bioethicist, human rights defender and loving family man.
He spoke openly on the dangers of euthanasia, having been no stranger to the possibility of death after being diagnosed with his terminal illness at 20.
In a letter to South Australian premier Mike Rann Dr Tonti- Filippini gave strong words against the proposed Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2010.
“Facing illness and disability takes courage and we do not need those euthanasia advocates to tell us that we are so lacking dignity and have such a poor quality of life that our lives are not worth living,” he said.
John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family director Bishop Peter Elliot, who worked with Dr Tonti-Filippini, a professor and dean of the institute, said “Nicholas was a fearless advocate in public discourse for his belief that the Christian voice should be heard in public debate. “.
Brisbane bioethicist Dr Ray Campbell said Dr Tonti-Filippini’s death was “a great loss to the church and community”.
“He is going to be sorely missed,” Dr Campbell said.
Dr Campbell met Dr Tonti-Filippini in 1982 after collaborating on numerous bioethics work while his friend was research officer at St Vincent’s Bioethics Centre, Melbourne.
Dr Campbell said that late Dr Tonti-Filippini was “a dear and loyal friend”.
“Nicholas was a very intelligent, independent thinking man, and he was concerned and determined about what he thought was true,” Dr Campbell said.
He said Dr Tonti-Filippini was always “concerned for human rights in healthcare” adding to public debate on euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the human right to refuse medical treatments.
“He was a great defender of human life,” he said.
“He was active in debates on public policy particularly in healthcare, and he made a great contribution not just to the Church but to Australian society.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who had known Dr Tonti-Filippini while living in Melbourne, said the late bioethicist’s Christian witness was “never stronger than in his last years when he was dealing with the illness that claimed his life”.
“It was then that the Gospel of life and the Gospel of saving suffering converged, so that Nicholas became more than ever a witness to the Paschal Mystery,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
Dr Tonti-Filippini was associate dean and head of bioethics at the John Paul II Centre for Marriage and Family.
He was also a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council and chair of the sub-committees on the Unresponsive State and Commercialisation of Human Tissue.
Pope Benedict XVI also made him a Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2009. He was also a Knight in Obedience of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta.
He published four volumes on bioethics and was due to publish a fifth.