Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

HEAL: Winding Down for the Holidays

In 2013, Gratuitous self-promotion on December 17, 2013 at 8:38 am

The Centre for Health Ethics and Law (HEAL) has had a busy and exciting start to the 2013/14 academic year. In September we were delighted to welcome both Dr Natasha Hammond-Browning and Dr A.M. Viens to Southampton Law School. Natasha’s interests include stem cell research and start of life issues more broadly, especially with regard to regulatory bodies/frameworks and reform. A.M. Viens’ research focuses on ethics, legal theory and public policy, especially public health ethics and law, global health and emergency/disaster management. In light of our growing critical mass, HEAL’s structure has also evolved, with Dr A.M. Viens taking up the mantle of Deputy Director and Dr Caroline Jones the role of Director.

Over the course of the summer, our University website was entirely revamped; and our continued engagement on Twitter has led to both friendly banter on-line, and a lunchtime seminar on the A NHS Trust v DE [2013] case (the much-discussed Court of Protection decision authorising the sterilisation of a man with learning difficulties) accompanied by excellent tea. In all, since September, HEAL has hosted three other events, in addition to the second instalment of the ESRC funded seminar series on Criminalizing Contagion , led in Southampton by Dr David Gurnham.

Our first meeting in October focused on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics consultation on Children in Research. Our response can be read in full here:HEAL response to NCOB Children and Clinical Research ethical issues FINAL. In our concluding remarks, we made the following suggestion:
In terms of the provision of practical guidance in specific cases, where it is uncertain
which principles should apply, perhaps something akin to the intervention ladder used
in the NCOB (2009) Public Health: ethical issues report about how to approach
public health interventions would be useful to researchers. One could foresee some
framework that helps to guide researchers when encountering tough cases as to
whether they should be, e.g., seeking assent, whether or not they should be asking
parents for consent for sensitive research, etc.

We look forward to reading the NCOB’s Report on this complex area.

The next meeting was known colloquially as Jonathan Montgomery’s swansong for Southampton, as he moved on to pastures new at the Faculty of Laws, UCL. Jonathan’s paper on ‘What is Medical Law ‘for’?’, saw him present a wide-ranging argument that contained two challenges to key ideas about illegitimacy in medical law. The first questioned the practical nature of legal legitimacy more broadly, whilst the second looked at medical decision-making as compared with judicial decision-making. The paper forms part of an exciting, on-going debate with scholars including Professor José Miola at Leicester, and we’re looking forward to seeing it in print in due course.

In November, the Twittersphere met ‘real’-life, in a HEAL event dedicated to a discussion of A NHS Trust v DE, led by one of our 2006 vintage (i.e., graduates), Jess Connelly, and Dr Andreas Dimopoulos of Brunel Law School, whose different constructions of the use of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in DE led to an interesting and engaged discussion. One question we are left with is the very way that health care law asks us to conceptualise persons, their rights, and the means of exercising health rights; would the law be more ethically defensible if we treat all persons as if they always have capacity, and does it even make sense to do so?

Last but not least in terms of events, this month Dr Andrew McGee from QUT spoke on a perennial debate in health law and bioethics; the act/omission distinction and end-of-life decision-making. Andrew combines a conceptual and a common-sense moral approach to analysing the law’s framing of causation, and generates a defence of the principle underpinning lawful treatment withdrawal in cases such as Bland. His talk, which was very well received, generated a stimulating discussion, defending a position that many scholars find — in the words of Lord Mustill in the Bland case — “both morally and intellectually misshapen.”

Meanwhile Dr Remigius Nwabueze and Professor Hazel Biggs have been flying the HEAL flag further afield, with Remi enjoying his research leave in Canada, and Hazel speaking on the ‘Legal aspects of cluster randomized truals under EU and UK Law’ at a recent Health Research Authority event.

Finally, as this is a ‘gratuitous self-promotion’ post, it would be shameful to miss the opportunity to embarrass John Coggon re his commendation at the BMA book awards in September, and to remind folk that he has co-edited two books that have come out this Autumn: with Swati Gola, Global Health and International Community ; and a volume led by A.M. Viens and co-edited too with Anthony S. Kessel, Criminal Law, Philosophy and Public Health Practice. It hardly needs noting that each would be a perfect stocking filler …

On that note, we wish you all the very best of wishes for a wonderful festive season – we’ll be back in 2014!

Caroline Jones, John Coggon & A.M. Viens

This week’s HEAL event: Andrew McGee on ‘Is Withdrawing Life-Prolonging Treatment Killing?’

In 2013, Death and dying, Meetings on December 2, 2013 at 8:10 am


Our next HEAL event will be on Wednesday 4 December from 3pm in building 4/room 3007, with Andrew McGee, from the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology.

The title of Andrew’s paper: ‘Is Withdrawing Life-Prolonging Treatment Killing?’


This paper discusses recent arguments of Franklin Miller and Robert Truog about withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and causation. The authors argue that traditional medical ethics, and the law, are mistaken to take the view that withdrawal does not kill the patient but merely allows the patient to die, describing such a view as ‘patently false’. In so arguing, Miller and Truog join a long line of academic criticism of the law that extends back to the seminal decision of Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] AC 789 (HL) and beyond. In this paper, I take issue with the authors’ claims. I argue that there are reasonable grounds upon which traditional medical ethics and the law can regard withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment as allowing the patient to die rather than as killing the patient.

We look forward to seeing you there – if you could let Adrian know if you wish to attend, by emailing A.M.Viens@soton.ac.uk (so we can keep an eye on numbers) that would be appreciated.