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 three areas:

  • Everyday cyborgs. Everyday cyborgs are all around us. They are persons with replacements and augmentations ranging from the simple to the extraordinarily complex; for example, artificial joint replacements, implanted devices such as pacemakers and the total artificial heart, and limb prostheses. The linking of the organic, biological person with synthetic, inorganic parts and devices raises questions which the law is ill-equipped to deal with. For instance, should internal medical devices which keep the person alive be viewed as part of the person or mere objects (or something else), is damage to neuro-prostheses (nervous system integrated) personal injury or damage to property, and is deactivation of the total artificial heart withdrawal of treatment or active euthanasia? These questions are part of what is being investigated in my current Wellcome Trust funded project: The Everyday Cyborg Mapping Legal, Ethical, and Conceptual Challenges.
  • Property rights in the human body and biomaterials. I have several articles/chapters on this and have a monograph (in press with Cambridge University Press). 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. However, I also argue the biotechnological innovation requires us to re-think the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of this area of the law. 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.
  • The use of the behavioural sciences in law and policy. I am interested in the state’s role in promoting and regulating (public) health through the use of so-called ‘nudges’. These are often framed by proponents and policy-makers as desirable strategies for achieving a range of aims. They are also frequently presented (at least by policy-makers and Government) as being a pioneering alternative to the law and traditional regulatory structures. Work in this area has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Newcastle Institute of Social Renewal.

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 small grants from a variety of sources for travel, training, and holding conferences.

2017-18

Everyday Cyborgs: Mapping Legal, Ethical, and Conceptual Challenges. A scoping project funded by the Wellcome Trust looking at challenges in relation to persons with implanted medical devices and complex prostheses.

More information at: Everyday Cyborgs

I tweet about Everyday Cyborgs, along with Edinburgh’s Gill Haddow @EverydayCyborgs

2016-17

Integrating (Public) Health Policy: Ethics, Equality, and Social Justice. A small project supported by the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal which is examining potential equality and justice implications with the use of the behavioural sciences to help formulate public health policy.

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. 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.

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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