Research

  1. Research interests

Well of course it’s got something to do with me, it’s my blood . . . Well, all right – was. But you can’t expect my interest in it to cease just because you’ve got it.

These immortal words uttered by Tony Hancock in Galton and Simpson’s ‘The Blood Donor’ resonate with one of my main research interests regarding self-ownership and property in our bodies and human biomaterials.

My recent research efforts have been focused mainly on two areas:

  • Property rights in the human body and biomaterials. I have several articles/chapters on this and am completing a monograph. My aim is to give a legal and ethical/political-legal philosophical analysis of arguments regarding self-ownership and the control that person’s ought to have over their body and human biomaterials. My core position is that property law already offers a framework which can deal with conflicts over the uses of biomaterials and which can cope with challenges which arise from biotechnological innovations. A key argument is that each persons moral rights of self-ownership justify them holding both moral and legal prima facie property rights in their biomaterials upon separation.
  • From August 2013 I worked on a Leverhulme Trust funded project for 12 months – ‘Influencing Health: The Normative Legitimacy of Health-affecting Nudges at State Level’. There have been recent policy moves aimed at encouraging individuals to lead healthier lives. It is hoped that, by using insights from behavioural research, people can be ‘nudged’ towards making decisions which are better for their health. The Cabinet Office has set up a ‘nudge unit’ with health as one of its priorities and behavioural approaches have started to be integrated into health-related domestic policy in a number of areas. During the project I conducted a critical analysis of the extent to which strategies labelled as ‘nudges’ can be considered to be legitimate policy approaches to influencing health at state level. Various outputs from this research are either published or forthcoming.

Parallel research interests include the law and ethics of reproduction and the reproductive technologies, organ transplantation, rights, animal and environmental ethics, and justice and responsibility. My research is unified by a curiosity in biotechnological advances and innovations, especially how these can be and ought to be dealt with by society. It also often lies at the intersection of disciplines and, as such, incorporates elements from law, philosophy, medicine and the biosciences.

Details of research visits, conferences organised, and projects can be found below.

Research Visits

In February and March 2014 I visited Monash University (Melbourne) and the University of Sydney as part of my Leverhulme-funded project on nudging.

I was a visiting scholar at the University of Birmingham’s law school from April to July 2013. While there I was working on my book  ‘Self-ownership, Property, & the Human Body’ which is due to be published by Cambridge University Press. I was also working with Dr Imogen Jones on a paper which examines the way in which the criminal law has addressed ‘transgressions’ relating to the dead body.

In February and March 2013 I was a MacCormick Visiting Fellow at the Mason Institute at the School of Law at the University of Edinburgh where I was also working on aspects of my book. In particular, I was exploring the Human Tissue Act (Scotland) 2006, as well as property concepts and personality rights in Scots law.

In 2010 I spent some time as a visiting researcher at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM) in Sydney where I was working on organ donation and property in the body.

In 2008 I received an Erasmus Training Grant which enabled me to spend some time as a Visiting Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Medical Ethics in the Erasmus Medical Centre of the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Projects, Conferences, and Other Research Awards

In addition to the funding listed below I have also been awarded various smaller grants for travel and training from a variety of sources.

2014-

A Body of Crime: Conceptualising the Dead. A scoping workshop held with Imogen Jones at the University of Birmingham. Jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Birmingham.

2013 -14

Influencing Health: The Normative Legitimacy of Health-affecting Nudges at State Level. I took research leave for a year to work on this Leverhulme Trust funded project.

2012

Regulating Bodies & Influencing Health: Nudges, Incentives, & Public Policy. Co-funding from a Wellcome Trust Small Grant and the University of Manchester’s Wellcome Trust Strategic Programme ‘The Human Body: Its Scope, Limits, & Future’. Held in Rotterdam in June as an official pre-congress symposium at the International Association of Bioethics World Congress.

More information at: Health Nudges

2010

The Irish Giant: Research and Development. Theatre group Cartoon de Salvo obtained a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award. I was asked to participate in this project as the ethics/science partner.

Medical Law & Ethics in the Media Spotlight (co-applicant). British Academy Conference Grant (with support from the Society of Legal Scholars and Mills & Reeve law firm). I was successful, with colleagues in the Centre for Social Ethics, and Policy, in obtaining funding from the British Academy and the Society for Legal Scholors. The conference took place in Novemeber 2010 at the British Academy in London.

Humans an Other Animals: Challenging the Boundaries of Humanity (co-applicant). Institute of Philosophy Conference Grant. Two day conference held in June 2010.

This conference sought to examine and challenge the boundaries so often drawn in philosophy, as elsewhere, between humans and other animals. It drew on philosophical, legal and scientific perspectives in order to question the legitimacy and utility of such distinctions and thereby to explore the moral and philosophical meanings of humanity and being human.

Speakers included Professor Patrick Bateson, Dr Juan Carlos Gomez, Dr Lisa Bortolotti, Professor John Harris, Professor Margot Brazier, Dr Matteo Mameli, Professor Sarah Cunningham Burley, Professor Raymond Tallis, Professor David DeGrazia, and Professor Frans De Waal.

More information at: Humans and Other Animals

Prosocial Primates: Empathy in Animals and Humans Wellcome Trust Conference Support (co-applicant). Support to hold a public lecture at the Wellcome Collection in London related to the Humans and Other Animals conference.

This public lecture at the Wellcome Collection was held in conjunction with the Humans and Other Animals Conference. Acclaimed primatologist Frans de Waal demonstrated how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans. He argued that understanding empathy and survival value in evolution can help to build a more just society based on a more accurate view of human nature.

More information at: Prosocial Primates

2008

Crucible 2008 – National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). The Crucible programme was a series of interdisciplinary workshops that aimed to tackle complex challenges that cannot be solved by one discipline alone. National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. I was selected to take part in the 2008 programme, which brought together researchers from a wide range of disciplines to think innovatively about the social and technical challenges facing society.

Further details at: NESTA: Crucible 2008

Challenges at the Interface of Biolaw & Bioethics – The 3rd Annual Postgraduate Conference in Bioethics. School of Law Research Fund, University of Manchester (in conjunction with Hart Publishing Ltd. and Eversheds law firm).

Academic staff, research staff, and postgraduate students within the Centre hosted the 3rd Annual Postgraduate Conference in Bioethics. The conference aimed to bring together leading academics and postgraduate students. Speakers included Professor Emily Jackson, Dr. Mairi Levitt, Professor Priscilla Alderson, Professor Margaret Brazier, Professor SÃren Holm, and Professor John Harris. The keynote speaker was Dr Evan Harris former Liberal Democrat MP.

Further details at: Challenges at the Interface of Biolaw & Bioethics

2006

Transplantation and the Organ Deficit in the UK: Pragmatic Solutions to Ethical Controversy (co-applicant). Economic and Social Research Council Seminar series.

Academic staff within the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy (CSEP) were awarded funding by the ESRC for a Seminar Series entitled ‘Transplantation and the Organ Deficit in the UK – Pragmatic Solutions to Ethical Controversy’. The seminar series ran from November 2006 to March 2008 and brought together national and international academic experts, policy-makers, doctors, scientists and patient representatives to consider how best to address ethical, policy and legal issues arising out of the shortage of organs available for transplantation in the UK.

Further details at: ESRC Seminar Series: Transplantation and Organ Deficit in the UK

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