PhD candidate, Department of Sociology & Philosophy, University College Cork, Ireland

Month: May, 2017

Methodological considerations of my research



My research method is a frame analysis approach. Frames may be described as ‘collective patterns of interpretation with which certain definitions of problems, causal attributions, demands, justifications and value-orientations are brought together in a more or less consistent framework for the purpose of explaining facts, substantiating criticism and legitimating claims’ (Rucht and Neidhardt 2002:11). I believe this to be the most effective method to document competing interpretations of the ‘right to die’.
The highly discursive EPAS debate centres on heated contestations amongst several actor
types relating to the interpretation of certain rights. The various elements of the rights
entitlement narrative reflect the input provided by legal, political, and social arenas, including the media. In particular this input pertains to the question of the individual’s right to recognition (e.g., of autonomy, experiences of suffering, loss of dignity), equal opportunity, and representation or voice before the law. Polemic interpretations of (in)justice highlight some fundamental issues at the core of this debate. A framing method proves the ideal way to track this ever-expanding public discourse.

I will employ a qualitative interviewing method to gather these conflicting interpretations. This will entail carrying out semi-structured interviews with those at the heart of this debate, consisting of influential legal and political actors as well as those directly seeking the right to die or those acting on their behalf. The advantage of a qualitative interview approach for my study lies in its facilitation of in-depth analysis of participant’s subjective experiences, much of which will undoubtedly be highly emotive, sensitive, and outside the realm of rigid definable variables. This research method enables the cultivation and maintenance of sensitivity to the social, cultural, and the historical caveats of this debate, impossible to consider with quantitative methods.

Using this data, my analysis will follow the theoretical recommendations of Axel Honneth, who calls for a negative reconstruction of society. This stipulation permits the definition of justice to be ‘provided by the criteria of the experiences of injustice rather than by a reconstruction of our intuitions of justice’ (2007: 95).

Once my empirical data is assembled, I will juxtapose those interviewees’ viewpoints to
definitively identify the fundamental contestations within this debate. Each participant’s
justificatory reasoning will reflect both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ rationalisations ascribed to the right to die. A framing technique enables researchers to assign normative value to each of these competing claims allowing for the formulaic deconstruction of the justice/injustice axis of this debate. The legitimacy of each competing claim for rights entitlement will be philosophically mediated to test whether it matches contemporary society’s expectations and the will of the majority of its people. Honneth’s supposition of reconstructing a fairer society can only be met once injustice claims are brought together in a coherent framework for deliberation. From here, a hierarchal ordering of these competing claims in accordance to their resonance with society will conclusively establish whether or not a call to alter existing legislation on the right to die is justified. That is the crux of my research.



Terminally ill former lecturer wins right to fight assisted dying ban


A terminally ill former lecturer has won the right to challenge the legal ban on assisted dying in the hope that he can end his life at home surrounded by his family.

Noel Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond 12 months.

The court of appeal on Wednesday reversed a previous ruling and said the high court should hear the highly contentious claim.

In their judgment, Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Beatson said: “It is arguable that the evidence demonstrates that a mechanism of assisted dying can be devised for those in Mr Conway’s narrowly defined group that is practical so as to address one of the unanswered questions in the [earlier Nicklinson right to die case].”

Supported by the organisation Dignity in Dying, Conway has instructed lawyers to seek permission for a judicial review of the ban on assisted dying, which he says prevents him ending his own life without protracted pain. Assisted dying is prohibited by section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 and voluntary euthanasia is considered murder under English and Welsh law.

Conway, who was not in court, welcomed the decision and said: “I am delighted that my case will now proceed to the next stage. Clearly the court of appeal has agreed that this is an issue deserving full and proper consideration and I look forward to a full hearing at the high court.

“I am more determined than ever to continue. I have the support of my loved ones and many thousands of others behind me.

“I have lived my whole life on my own terms, in control of the choices and decisions I make. Why then, when I am facing my final months, should these rights be stripped away from me, leaving me at the mercy of a cruel illness?

“I know I am going to die anyway, but how and when should be up to me.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the law denied terminally ill people like Noel the choice and control they deserved at the end of their lives. She said parliament had failed to adequately address assisted dying and urged the courts to take into account recent developments in assisted dying abroad.

She said: “We are pleased that Noel’s case will now get the full and proper hearing it deserves at the high court. The current law simply does not work for dying people or their families.”

In their judgment, Lord Justices McFarlane and Beatson said: “We consider that, in the context of considering permission for judicial review, the fact that since [the Nicklinson case] parliament has made a decision not to change the law and the matter is no longer under active consideration means that Mr Conway should be entitled to argue that it is no longer institutionally inappropriate for the court to consider whether to make a declaration of incomparability [between the existing law and Conway’s rights under the European convention on human rights].”