About us

The Nathaniel Centre – the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre – was established on 1 May 1999 as an agency of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference. We seek to bring the light of the Gospel and the moral tradition of the Catholic Church to issues in bioethics.

The key functions of The Nathaniel Centre are:

  • Offering educational opportunities in bioethics for different groups
  • Acting as an advisory and resource centre in bioethics for individuals, and for educational and community groups
  • Promoting the study and practical resolution of ethical, social and legal issues arising out of medical and scientific research and practice
  • Publishing articles and information on topics in bioethics
  • Carrying out research and taking action to support the Church's pastoral response to bioethical issues in the community, taking into account the needs of different cultures and groups in society.

The Nathaniel Centre is located in the Mercy Centre, Thorndon, Wellington, New Zealand. It provides assistance within New Zealand, and on request, to the Catholic dioceses of Oceania.

In January 2012 the Centre was formally affiliated with the newly formed Catholic tertiary institution - the Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand (TCI).

Our Name

The red flowers of the pohutukawa appear in December each year. At Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand there is a lone pohutukawa, thought to be 800 years old. In Māori tradition the spirits of the dying travel to Cape Reinga where they slip down the roots of the sacred pohutukawa into the sea, to journey back to their origin in Hawaiki.

Nathaniel Knoef was born on 12 December 1998, as the pohutukawa flowers were beginning to appear. He died on 2 February 1999 as the same flowers faded, giving way to the seed from which new pohutukawa would grow.

At his birth Nathaniel was diagnosed with incurable health problems, and in the few weeks of his life his parents faced many ethical issues associated with his care. Their story clearly highlighted the need ordinary people have for access to support in dealing with the growing number of ethical issues which surround the gift of life.

The naming of New Zealand's national Catholic bioethics centre in honour of Nathaniel is a sign of the Centre's commitment to those who are the most vulnerable in the complex ethical situations which develop in their lives.


The pohutukawa is one of New Zealand's national symbols. The brilliant red flowers appear each year in December making it New Zealand's own symbol of Christmas. In Māori mythology the red flowers represent the blood of Tawhaki, a spirit ancestor who showed the way to heaven and died in doing so.

Some pohutukawa are considered sacred, or tapu, by Māori. One of the most sacred is a small weatherbeaten pohutukawa which clings to the cliffs at Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand. This tree guards the entrance to a secret cave through which the spirits of the dead pass on their way to the next world. There are pohutukawa in other parts of New Zealand which are sacred because they have been the recipients of the placenta of the newborn.

The rich symbolism of the pohutukawa embraces the beginning and end of life which together with its spiritual significance, make it a very appropriate symbol for a Catholic bioethics centre in New Zealand.


The Nathaniel Centre offers a number of services to individuals and groups.

Personal assistance will be given on request to people facing issues which have a bioethical component.

Resources are available on many bioethical issues, and Centre staff will assist in researching particular topics if needed.

Seminars, workshops, and talks tailored to the needs of particular audiences are conducted regularly by Centre staff.

Assistance with the ethical components of policy development and analysis is available for healthcare institutions and organizations.

The Centre seeks to respond wherever possible to requests from individuals or groups, and can generally tailor its response to fit the needs of the people involved. Please contact us if you wish to use our services. We will be pleased to be of assistance.