DPhil in Medical Law: Q and A with Dr Kate Greasley

DPhil in Medical Law: Q and A with Dr Kate Greasley

Why did you choose Oxford? 

I had already studied at Oxford as an undergraduate and on the BCL (the taught masters in law), so I was already familiar with the place, and knew that it was chock full of excellent scholars in my areas of interest with whom I would be lucky to work.

What was the title of your DPhil research and what was your research about?

‘Life Before Birth: Abortion and Prenatal Personhood in Morality and Law’.

My thesis was all about abortion, in law, and also in ethics. I focussed on what bearing the moral status of the foetus—and whether the human foetus is a “person” in the philosophical sense—has on the moral and legal permissibility of abortion. In short, are abortion rights subject to condition that the embryo or foetus is not a full-fledged person, with the right to life? I also explored a clutch of arguments in moral philosophy about the rights and moral status of the foetus, and sought to reveal some fallacies in certain kinds of “pro-life” (term used advisedly) thinking about that question.   

Who was your supervisor?

Professor Leslie Green

When was your research submitted?  

My memory of the time is hazy(!), but I think it was some time in the summer of 2014.

How did you think of your DPhil research topic? 

I actually started out the DPhil working on an entirely different topic: the problem of “moral luck” and its relevance to law. After working on that for just under a year, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really have a significant contribution to make on that issue at that time. Around the same time, I had become increasingly interested in abortion ethics, after having been introduced to some philosophical writing on the topic through the Medical Law & Ethics BCL option (an option on which I now teach). I started to feel confident that I might have some more interesting ideas about this, and so (with the crucial support of my supervisor) I switched tracks. So it was a slightly squiggly DPhil path, but I think it worked out for the best.

What is the importance of this project?

The project considered what our legal abortion rights ought to be, and what further moral questions the correct legal position depends on, so it had a pointed practical importance, as well as touching on a host of wider philosophical issues, such as the morality of killing and the nature of personal identity.

How has your DPhil research continued to feature in your current research interests and projects?

Well, for one example, I recently wrote a review of an excellent new book by someone arguing in direct opposition to the main claim in my DPhil thesis. (The book Is David Boonin’s ‘Beyond Roe: Why Abortion Should Be Legal Even If The Fetus Is A Person’).

How has your DPhil has helped you in your career?

Since I am now a scholar by profession, I’d say it was pretty fundamental! I wrote a monograph that was largely based on my thesis, and drew on much of the work I did in those years when co-authoring another book about abortion ethics.

Do you have any advice for current DPhil candidates?

I think the best general advice I received is to write consistently throughout the doctorate. I would add to this that you don’t want to be too precious about anything you write – some of it may end up not fitting in to the end thesis, and you just have to let it go.