Obituary: The Very Revd Edward Shotter

16 August 2019

Edward Shotter with his wife, Jane, and young family on his appointment as Dean of Rochester

Edward Shotter with his wife, Jane, and young family on his appointment as Dean of Rochester

The Revd Professor Kenneth Boyd writes:

INVITED in the mid-1960s to lecture to the recently established London Medical Group, a consultant physician declined, replying tartly that, if these ethical matters were to be discussed at all, which he doubted, they should be discussed “by consultants, with consultants, and in camera”. He was not alone: at that time many clinicians still believed that medical ethics was something “that could be picked up on the ward round”.

Edward Shotter, who died on 3 July, was to change all this. Having created the London Medical Group (LMG) in 1963, he went on to enable the establishment of similar groups in all of the other UK medical schools, and in the 1970s both to found the Journal of Medical Ethics, today among the most widely read and cited in its field, and the Institute of Medical Ethics, which today coordinates and supports teaching, learning and research in medical ethics nationwide. Whether Ted Shotter is regarded as the godfather or the midwife of modern medical ethics in the UK, his untiring energy, organisational flair, and enabling gifts were essential to its birth.

Edward Frank Shotter was born on 29 June 1933 and intended first to become an architect, but was soon led to seek ordination and studied at St David’s College Lampeter, and St Stephen’s House, Oxford. He served his first curacy at St Peter’s Plymouth, and then was recruited as a member of its London staff by the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

At that time, the SCM was anxious to develop more innovative and non-sectarian ways of contributing to the life of the universities and, in particular, the London medical schools. How to implement this was a challenge that Ted Shotter readily accepted. Through engagement first with medical students and then with senior physicians and academics, he soon gained the confidence of those in both groups who were keenly aware that scientific advances and social change had created a growing need for the study of ethics in medical education.

From 1963, the LMG and subsequently the other medical groups were each to have an annual extra-curricular programme of well-attended lectures, symposia, seminars, and conferences on “issues raised by the practise of medicine which concern other disciplines”. Topics for discussion were selected by students, often on subjects not found in the formal curriculum, such as “The Nature and Management of Terminal Pain” by Cicely Saunders, “Child Abuse” by Christine Cooper, and “Preparation for Death” by Anthony Bloom.

As well as leading contributors from across the medical specialties, speakers included the radical critics Ivan Illich and R. D. Laing, the philosophers Richard Hare and Jonathan Glover, the moral theologian G. R. Dunstan, the Reith Lecturer Ian Kennedy, and the journalists Katherine Whitehorn and Clare Rayner.

Shotter himself was never a speaker at any of these events. This was quite deliberate: he saw his role as an enabler, ensuring that the medical groups were impartial and non-partisan, and run as a tight ship with a tried and tested organisational formula. He also believed that part of their success depended on not being seen “as a chaplaincy exercise”. This did not mean that he ever concealed or downplayed his own identity as a high but also broad churchman; but there can be little doubt that it was by his generous open hospitality, and his genuinely pastoral care and concern, that friendships were made and enthusiasms kindled on which depended the success of the enterprise that he founded. Many doctors, including some who were to rise from LMG student representatives to the highest level of academia and of the medical profession, owed and owe much to him.

His later career was different but no less distinguished. While retaining his interest in and association with the Institute of Medical Ethics, in 1989 he became Dean of Rochester, and later Secretary of the Association of English Cathedrals. Bringing his multidisciplinary approach to the work and worship of Rochester, he relished especially his responsibility for the cathedral’s fabric, while in the wider community his interdisciplinary approach was evident in his involvement with the civic and educational life of the Medway towns, their naval heritage, and especially with police chaplaincy.

Some time before his retirement in 2003, in preparation for the cathedral’s 1400th anniversary, and with a true architect’s eye, he commissioned the Russian artist Sergei Fyodorov to paint a fine fresco of the baptism of Christ and of the men of Kent on the eastern wall of the cathedral’s north transept. Other continuities with his earlier SCM and LMG experience, when he had led student expeditions to Eastern Europe, were his work as one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Counsellors on Foreign Relations and as Chairman of the Eastern Europe subcommittee of the Liberal Party Foreign Affairs Panel.

After his retirement in 2003, he continued to give notable service to the Church of England, week by week celebrating the eucharist in ancient rural parish churches near his home in Suffolk, where he spent his final day enjoying Test Match Special and the glorious rose garden outside his study window, frail in body but strong in spirit. He is survived by his wife, Dr Jane Shotter, sons, James and Piers, daughter, Emma, son-in-law, Duncan, and grandson, Hamish.

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