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Margaret Somerville says good citizens need to do more than vote for the right leader

Margaret Somerville
Professor Margaret Somerville: “I have ended up believing that being open to experiences of ‘amazement, wonder and awe’ is very important, if we seek to behave ethically and convince others to do so.”

IF you voted in the recent Queensland state election and you think you’ve done your job for another four years, or if the people of the United States think they have too, leading Australian bioethicist Professor Margaret Somerville has news for you.

Professor Somerville, who is Professor of Bioethics at Notre Dame University in Sydney, suggested there was more to be done.

Considering the dilemma of Catholics trying to choose between one politician and another or between political parties to suit their values, Prof Somerville, who Pope Francis recently made a Dame of the Order of St Gregory for her contributions to bioethics, said it was “really difficult”.

She addressed the question in a recent article that is yet to be published, called Could The Wonder Equation Help Us To Be More Ethical? – A Personal Reflection.

In part of the article she explores what’s happening with people’s values.

Prof Somerville said while people were described as having conservative-traditional values or progressive-liberal ones, most had a “mixed” values package with some values from each group.

She said in the past, if someone said they were from the Liberal Party, for example, you knew they were conservative and you had a good idea of what their values were, and it was the same with someone from the Communist Party; you knew what their values were.

“But that is no longer true; we now have what I call ‘mixed values packages’, and that’s for both the voters and the people they vote for, and it also means that the combinations are very large so it is almost impossible to find a politician who agrees with all of your most important values,” she said.

“So what you have to do is you’ve got to choose what is my most important value and vote for that but you’ve got to take into account the harm that that politician’s other values will cause, and that is very, very difficult.

“We no longer have easy, automatic choices and so I guess what you have to do is try to get as much as you can of what you think is really important, and then work to try to change the ones that you think are wrong.

“You can’t just sit back and think, ‘That guy’s going to do all my work for me’.

“And that’s where bioethics comes in, and that’s where teaching kids, and even right up to university students, is so important.”

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