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Donna Dickenson is Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of London. She also holds honorary positions at the HeLEX Centre, University of Oxford, and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol.

Donna’s academic career spans a period of nearly forty years and includes many senior posts at major British Universities. At the University of London she has held the position of Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities at Birkbeck College, as well as her earlier Leverhulme Senior Lectureship at Imperial College. Between her two stints in London she was the first holder of the John Ferguson Chair in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham. Between 1974 and 1997 she was a Tutor, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the Open University, where she developed innovative courses in politics and medical ethics.

After obtaining her BA (with High Honours) from Wellesley College, Boston, Donna undertook an MSc degree at the London School of Economics. She then returned to her native New England as Associate in Research at Yale University, also spending a year working on a court reform project for the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City.

Dickenson connects her responsiveness to the new or unexpected to her native region, New England…For Dickenson, ‘to see New Englandly’—as Emily Dickinson put it—implies a permanent amazement about the new and coincidental. Even though Dickenson left her native country in 1973 in protest against the Vietnam War, this ‘New England attitude’ still informs her work. Indeed, perhaps it even informed her departure, just as it did the ‘Essay on Civil Disobedience’ by Henry David Thoreau, whom Dickenson calls her most formative influence.
-----Jury report, International Spinoza Lens Award 2006

After leaving the United States, Donna took up her part-time post at the Open University at the time her children Anders and Pip were small, combining child care, tutoring and working on her own doctorate, supervised by Alan Ryan of New College Oxford and Tom Sorrell of the University of Essex, on the topic of moral luck. Of the resulting 1991 book, Moral Luck in Medical Ethics and Practical Politics, and its 2003 successor Risk and Luck in Medical Ethics, one reviewer wrote:

Since the famous Williams-Nagel discussion about the paradox of moral luck and its apparently devastating implications for the possibility of ethical systems, the problem of moral luck has been fully recognised in theoretical philosophy, whereas it is still taken little account of in medical ethics. Not only did Dickenson fill this lack, but she also did so in a brilliant way, offering readers an intellectually inspiring study.

With Professor Michael Parker of the Ethox Centre at Oxford, where she is also a Fellow, Donna has written an innovative open learning textbook which brings together real, everyday cases from many countries and many branches of medicine. This text, The Cambridge Medical Ethics Workbook, together with its associated CD-ROM, has been widely adopted. Doctors have welcomed its real-life approach, when so many philosophers working in medical ethics deal in imaginary cases. As one reviewer wrote, ‘This Cambridge workbook should be congratulated for its success in rendering medical ethics lively, enticing and user-friendly. Most classics of biomedical ethics are dry and daunting because they were…based on abstract ethics constructs. The greatest merit of this book is its success in helping the reader to appreciate that salient ethical issues are hidden behind what may otherwise look like routine and minor medical decisions.’

Three collections edited by Donna have become classic teaching texts. The first is the innovative reader Death, Dying and Bereavement (with Malcolm Johnson and Jeanne Katz) now in its fifteenth year of use by Open University students and health care professionals across the country. As one reviewer wrote of the second edition, ‘This book is a must…an excellent balance of theoretical content and moving prose.’

The more recent single-edited book Ethical Issues in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (Cambridge University Press, 2002) has been called ‘remarkably broad and ground-extending’, with its unusual emphasis on power abuses between doctors and mothers, the impact of new technologies, the experience of disability and the role of cultural differences. The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist began by praising ‘a brilliant introductory chapter by Donna Dickenson’, called the book ‘a breath of fresh air in the debates surrounding reproduction, which tend to be male-dominated’ and ended by recommending, ‘I believe every practitioner should own a copy.’

Finally, Healthcare Ethics and Human Vallues: An Introductory Text with Readings and Case Studies, co-edited with Bill Fulford and Thomas Murray, offers first-person narratives, literary texts and more conventionally academic articles. It has been described by one reviewer as ‘an impressive collection…an invaluable tool for teachers of medical ethics,’ which foregrounds the diversity of values in the doctor-patient encounter. ‘The editors have done an admirable job in collecting the contributions. The stories speak volumes.’

Donna has written a total of twenty books and over sixty articles. Her work has been translated into several languages, including German, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.

In 2010 Donna became Research Associate, HeLEX (Centre for Health Law and Emerging Technologies) at the University of Oxford. Additionally, she published a new book: the second edition of the Cambridge Medical Ethics Workbook with the authors being Donna Dickenson, Richard Huxtable and Michael Parker.

Property Women & PoliticsDeath, Dying and Bereavement


Ethical Issues in Maternal-Fetal Medicine
The Cambridge Medical Ethics Workbook
Healthcare Ethics
Risk & Luck in Medical Ethics
Lichaam en eigendom
In Two MInds. A Casebook of Psychiatric Ethics

© Donna Dickenson 2010
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