Margaret Somerville, Laureate 2004

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura presented the Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science on 26 April 2004 to its first laureate, Margaret A. Somerville, in the presence of Jafar Towfighi, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research and Technology.

Selected by an international jury, Margaret Somerville, holds dual Australian and Canadian nationality. She is both Samuel Gale Professor of Law and a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal (Canada). Founder and Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, she was also founding Chairperson of the Ethics Committee of the National Research Council of Canada.

Through her books, conferences and other work, Professor Somerville has made an important contribution to the global development of bioethics, and to the ethical and legal aspects of medicine and science. She has worked with a range of international organizations, such as UNESCO, the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Among her many publications are The Ethical Canary: Science, Society and the Human Spirit and Death Talk: The Case Against Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide.

The Prize owes its name to 11th century doctor, philosopher and alchemist Abu Ali al-Hosein Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina (980-1038), who was known in Europe as Avicenna. As a humanist and physician, he developed an approach that prefigured ethics in science.

The Prize encourages ethical reflection on questions raised by scientific and technological advances, a goal that coincides with UNESCO’s priorities. The Organization’s Executive Board approved the statutes of the prize at its 166th session. Sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran, it consists of a gold medal portraying Avicenna, a certificate, the sum of US $10,000, and a weeklong trip to Iran during which the laureate will participate in scientific conferences.

Mr Towfighi opened the April 26 ceremony. After a speech by Jens Erik Fenstad (Norway), Chairman of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), the Director-General awarded the prize to Margaret Somerville. The laureate presented her work and a video about the life of Avicenna, taken from an Iranian television documentary, followed. 

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