People at the Centre

Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald, Ph.D.
Inaugural Maurice Young Chair of Applied Ethics

Professor McDonald retired in December, 2010. He continues to remain active in research, graduate supervision and ethics consulting.

Michael McDonald was the founding Director of the W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics (1990-2002). He received an Honours BA in Philosophy from the University of Toronto and an MA and PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. From 1969 to 1990, he was a member of the Philosophy Department at the University of Waterloo.

In 2009, the Canadian Bioethics Society gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to McDonald for his "outstanding contribution to the Healthcare Ethics in Canada". Complete In 2006, the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada presented McDonald with the designation of Honorary Certified General Accountant for his contribution to professional ethics education for the Association.

McDonald also headed the creation of two websites with Dr. Holly Longstaff and Nina Preto: is an educational resource dedicated to helping Canadian stem cell researchers navigate ethical issues in their work; is a website designed for gathering information that will promote better communication amongst and between researchers, research administrators, research participants, and research ethics committees.

Current Research

Professor McDonald’s research is focussed on the ethics and governance of research involving humans.  He is currently working on the following projects.

  • Co-PI with Sue Cox, “Centring the human subject in health research: understanding the meaning and experience of research participation”. CIHR Operating Grant.
  • PI for “Governance of Ethical Health Research Involving Humans: Evidence, Accountability and Practice”. CIHR Ethics Network Grant
  • Co-PI with Tim Caulfield, Bartha Knoppers, Edna Einsiedel, and Tania Bubela. “The Stem Cell Research Environment: Drawing the Evidence and Experience Together”. Stem Cell Network Research Grant
  • PI for "Using structured online risk communication experiments to foster ethical decision making about induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells". Stem Cell Network Research Grant.


McDonald has been involved in research projects on governance and human research protection (Law Commission of Canada and CIHR), business ethics, transplantation (Fujisawa and Hoffman LaRoche), political philosophy and ethics.  McDonald recently developed an ethics framework for the Provincial Health Ethics Network of Alberta. It is intended for those responsible for health care institutions and regions.  Click here for a copy of the document.



Grants & Awards

Granting Agency Subject $ Per Year Years Principal Investigator
SSHRC/UBC Business & Professional Ethics, Workshop 19,000 1991 McDonald
SSHRC Applied Ethics Network 40,000 1991-1994 McDonald
SSHRC Applied Ethics Network 30,000 1994-1997 McDonald
SSHRC/Ford Cross Cultural Health Care Ethics 62,000 1994-1997 Harold Coward
SSHRC Ethics of Ecological Restoration 5,000 1997-1998 Eric Higgs
Kidney Foundation Ethnocultural beliefs regarding organ donation 32,500 1999-2001 Anita Molzahn
Law Commission Governance relations in medical research 63,500 1999 McDonald
SSHRC Bioethics and Health Law 39,924 1999 Susan Sherwin
SSHRC Ethics and Society and Health 40,000 1999 Storch, McDonald, Anderson
Fujisawa and Hoffman LaRoche Who is the LAD? Understanding the Living Anonymous Donor 310,000 1999-2001 David Landsberg
CIHR Training Institute Seed Grant 5,000 2000 McDonald
CIHR Towards the Ethical Governance of Canadian Research Involving Humans: Principles, Policies, Practices and Outcomes 58,970 2002-2004 McDonald
CIHR Training Program in Health Ethics Research & Policy 300,000 2002-2008 McDonald

Specialization & Professional Interests

McDonald’s work is located at the intersection of theory and practice in health care, business and professional life, politics, and other aspects of everyday life. He has written on such topics as the ethics of research involving human subjects, cross-cultural ethics, the rights of communities, professional and corporate responsibility, and the place of applied ethics in contemporary society. He has played an important leadership role in the development of a significant Canadian research capacity in applied ethics.


In 2008-2009 McDonald is on academic leave. Normally he teaches graduate courses including the Pro-Seminar in Applied Ethics and the Seminar in the Ethics of Research Involving Humans.  Over his nearly forty year career, McDonald has taught numerous students in courses in ethics, business ethics, bioethics, engineering ethics, and political and legal philosophy. 

McDonald is currently supervising several graduate students.  He also is Program Director of the “Training Program in Health Ethics Research & Policy” (see list of research projects above).

Professional Service

McDonald is currently a member of the Canadian Blood Services  Research Ethics Board.   McDonald also serves as ethics education consultant to the Certified General Accountants of Canada.  For his work in accounting ethics, he was awarded an Honorary CGA in 2006.  His work there is described in an article “Ethical Integration” in CGA Magazine ( He also has been a consultant on various projects in health research ethics, business ethics, environmental issues, and professional ethics. McDonald served as Co-Chair and then Acting Chair of the first CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics.  In the period leading up to the establishment of CIHR, he also was a member of the three committees recommending the ethics function of CIHR.  In the mid-1990’s McDonald played a major part in the formation of the Tri-Council Policy Statement for the Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans.  After that he headed several research projects on Canadian policy for human research protection.  McDonald served as member and Deputy Chair of the Tri-Council Working Group on Ethics (1995-7).  The TCWG was asked to draft and recommend a comprehensive prescriptive document on the ethics of research involving humans that would apply to all research institutions receiving or administering funds from the three Councils.  This resulted in the 1997 Code of Conduct for the Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans. This ultimately led to the 1998 Tri-Council Policy Statement on the Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans (TCPS).
In the late 1980’s, McDonald authored the report that led to the establishment of the SSHRC strategic theme in applied ethics that over a ten-year period supported numerous research projects in the area.  

McDonald also served on several ethics committees in British Columbia and as the Canadian Bioethics Society representative to the Canadian Council on Animal Care. As well, he was member the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on the future of Health Canada’s Non-Human Primate Centre.  In 1991-2, he served as president of the Canadian Philosophical Association and English language editor of its journal Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Reviews (1981-1989).

Recent Publication

Ethical issues in the treatment of humans subjects involved in health research are addressed by McDonald in a series of recent publications. In The Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects, McDonald and his co-authors provide the first in-depth description and analysis of Canadian public and private sector oversight of health research involving human subjects. This study was prepared for the Law Commission of Canada, Ottawa and published in October 2000. This study is available in either English or French and copies can be obtained directly from the Commission. In the sections of the study authored by McDonald (Ethics and Governance), he provides in Section A an overview of the project as well as its scope and limitations. In Section B, he offers a conceptual analysis of ethics in relation to governance, a description of the current governance processes and an account of the factors shaping the context of Canadian governance for the area. In the final section of the study (Section F) McDonald presents five major conclusions and recommendations essential to the reform of Canadian governance for health research involving human subjects.

In The Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects: Reflections on Ethical Policy for Scientific Research (Transactions Royal Society of Canada Special Issue: Science and Ethics, Series VI, Volume XI, pp. 49-68), McDonald provides an overview of the work done by his research team for the Law Commission of Canada and suggests that political divisions over appropriate governance have been exacerbated by a lack of good ethical analysis and qualitative research. In Canadian Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects: Is Anybody Minding the Store? (Health Law Journal, Vol.9, 2001, 1-21), McDonald strongly criticizes the current state of inaction with respect to Canadian protection for human subjects and argues for an evidence-based approach to the protection of research subjects.

In transplantation ethics, McDonald has published work as member of interdisciplinary team from the British Columbia Transplant Society on living anonymous donation (LAD) – the donation of a kidney by a donor to a "stranger" someone who is unrelated biologically or emotionally. In The living anonymous kidney donor: Lunatic or saint? (American Journal of Transplantation, in press), evidence is offered that a significant number of potential LADs are likely to be psychologically stable altruistic donors. Earlier work on public receptivity to LAD is reported in Living Anonymous Kidney Donation: What Does the Public Think? Transplantation (in press, June 2001).

Cross-cultural dimensions of the concept of health and their relevance to health care are tracked by McDonald in Health, Health Care and Culture: Diverse Meanings, Shared Agendas which is a chapter in A Cross-Cultural Dialogue on Health Care Ethics (H. Coward and P. Ratanakul (Eds.) Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1998).

McDonald’s work in business and professional ethics includes publications on accounting ethics, most notably the Ethics Reading Handbook which is used by the Certified General Accountants of Canada as a basic part of their distance education program for CGA status. He has also written on ethics for foresters: First Principles for Professional Foresters. Peter C. List, Ed. Environmental Ethics and Forestry: A Reader (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000; pp.128-144).

McDonald’s earlier work in political philosophy is represented by a variety of publications. The paper Aboriginal Rights has been reprinted in anthologies by Cragg -- Contemporary Moral Issues (McGraw Hill Ryerson) and by Soifer -- Ethical Issues Perspectives for Canadians (Broadview Press). The argument that ends justifying means in politics is discussed and rejected by McDonald in Hands: Clean and Tied, Dirty and Bloody which is published in Cruelty and Deception: The Controversy Over Dirty Hands In Politics, David Shugarman and Paul Rynard, Eds. Broadview Press, 1999.

Other Publications:
  • Henderson, A. J. Z., Landolt, M. A., McDonald, M. F., Landsberg, D. N., Barrable, W. M., Soos, J. G., Gourlay, W., Allison, C. J. (in press). The living anonymous kidney donor: Lunatic or saint? American Journal of Transplantation.
  • Chris Macdonald, Michael McDonald, and Wayne Norman "Charitable Conflicts of Interest," Journal of Business Ethics 39 (Nos. 1-2) 67-74.
  • “Canadian Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects: Is Anybody Minding the Store?” Health Law Journal, Vol.9, 2001, 1-21.
  • The Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects. Law Commission of Canada, Ottawa, October 2000 (online). Available in either English or French, xxiv + 363 pages.
  • Landolt, M.A., Henderson, A.J.Z., Barrable, W.M., Greenwood, S.D., McDonald, M.F., Soos, J.G., Landsberg, D.N. “Living Anonymous Kidney Donation: What Does the Public Think?” Transplantation. (In press, June 2001).
  • “The Governance of Health Research Involving Human Subjects: Reflections on Ethical Policy for Scientific Research”, Transactions Royal Society of Canada Special Issue: Science and Ethics, Series VI, Volume XI, pp. 49-68.
  • "First Principles for Professional Foresters.” “First Principles for Professional Foresters”. Peter C. List, Ed. Environmental Ethics and Forestry: A Reader, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000; pp.128-144.
  • "Hands: Clean and Tied, Dirty and Bloody", Cruelty and Deception: The Controversy Over Dirty Hands In Politics, David Shugarman and Paul Rynard, Eds. Broadview Press, 1999.
  • “Health, Health Care and Culture: Diverse Meanings, Shared Agendas", A Cross-Cultural Dialogue on Health Care Ethics, Eds. H. Coward and P. Ratanakul, Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 1999, pp. 92-112.
  • "Business Ethics in Canada: Integration and Interdisciplinarity", Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 16 (6), April 1997, pp. 635-43
  • "Prescriptions from Religious and Secular Ethics for Breaking the Impoverishment/Environmental Degradation Cycle", Population, Consumption, and the Environment: Religious and Secular Perspectives. H. Coward, rd. State University of New York Press, 1995, pp. 195-216
  • “An Inquiry Into the Ethics of Retroactive Environmental Legislation: the Case of British Columbia's Bill 26", University of B.C. Law Review, 29, 1995, pp. 63-86
  • Ethics Readings Handbook, Certified General Accountants of Canada, Vancouver, 1995, 1997 (24,000 CGA students in Canada, Asia and the Caribbean are using this text and anthology.)
  • "Opportunities for Research in Business and Professional Ethics", Journal of Business Ethics, 11: 41 55, 1992
  • "Liberalism, Community, and Culture", University of Toronto Law Journal, 42, 1992, pp. 113 131
  • “Should Communities Have Rights? Reflections on Liberal Individualism", Human Rights in Cross- Cultural Perspectives, A.A. An-Na'im (Ed), University of Pennsylvania Press, Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights, Philadelphia, 1992, pp 133-161; and in Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, IV (2), July 1991
  • "Questions about Collective Rights", Language and the State: The Law and Politics of Identity, ed. David Schniederman, Montreal, Les editions Yvon Blais, 1991, pp. 3-25
  • Michael McDonald (Principal Investigator), Marie Helene Parizeau (Senior Researcher), Daryl Pullman (Research Assistant), Towards a Canadian Research Strategy for Applied Ethics: Report for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, published by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, 151 Slater Street, Suite 404, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H3 ISBN 0 920031 07 02, November 1988. Vers une strategie canadienne de recherche en Éthique appliquée, French edition of report, April 1993
  • "Respect for Individuals Versus Respect for Groups: Public Aid for Confessional Schools in the United States and Canada", Philosophical Dimensions of the Constitution, Diane Meyers and Kenneth Kipnis, editors, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1988, pp. 180 195
  • "Indian Status: Colonialism or Sexism", Canadian Community Law Journal, 1986, pp. 23 48
  • "Justice in Hard Times", Social Justice, Bowling Green Studies in Applied Philosophy, Bowling Green, 1982, pp. 34 43. Reprinted in Contemporary Moral Issues, W. Cragg, ed., McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1st edition 1983, 2nd edition 1987, 3rd edition 1992, pp. 560-70
  • "Aboriginal Rights", Contemporary Issues in Political Philosophy, Eds. W.R. Shea and J. King Farlow, New York, 1976, pp. 27 48. Reprinted in Contemporary Moral Issues, ed. W. Cragg, McGraw Hill Ryerson, first edition 1983, second edition 1987, third edition 1991, pp. 269-286 and in Ethical Issues Perspectives for Canadians, ed. E. Soifer, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ont., first edition 1992, second edition 1997, pp. 598-613

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