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Jose Luis Guerrero Quiñones is originally from Spain. He joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017 and his thesis title is ‘Euthanasia and the duty to die: a moral advocacy of the responsibility to end life at the right time’.
The first time I heard about Oxford Brookes was while searching online for
a suitable research group or Director of Studies for the PhD project that I had in
It was finding out about my Director of Studies, Dr Stephen Boulter, and, in particular, his encouraging attitude and interest towards my ideas, which encouraged me to apply to study for my PhD at Oxford Brookes. Dr Boulter’s thorough consideration and appreciation of my ideas was decisive, particularly since there were no funds or other scholarships available, and I had to self-fund my project.
I had my first contact with Dr Boulter while living in Slovenia where I was doing European Voluntary Service at a charity for LGBTQIA+ people. My
project addressed the main medical issues affecting the gay community in the
capital, Ljubljana; mainly the impact of HIV and AIDS. Our goal was to prevent
bad information and prejudices from spreading, as well as to improve the
general knowledge about the virus and its resulting disease.
While living abroad, I realised that my vocation was to research in Philosophy and, more specifically, in bioethics and the role that death has within it. Consequently, I found it relatively easy to adapt to an environment that was not completely new for me. Besides that, there are consolidated and perfectly functioning groups within the University to help research students cope with all the demands of their new path, as well as providing future career advice.
The aim of my research project is to investigate thoroughly the moral issues relating to death and dying in medical contexts, focusing on those cases where patients seek help to die on their own terms. The focus of the debate in society at large tends to focus on the question of whether it is morally permissible for a patient to ask for help to die, and whether it is morally permissible for a doctor to provide that aid. The primary aim of my project, however, is to approach this debate from a different and hitherto neglected angle. If there is, as has been suggested by Hardwig (1997), a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, then the traditional debate needs to be recast. Put another way, if there is a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, then there is a related right to aid to carry out this duty if this aid is required: a right which confers a moral obligation on those who can provide that help. This casts the familiar debate in an entirely different light. The primary aim of the project, then, is to establish that there is indeed a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, and to work out and analyse the ramifications of this claim.
The euthanasia debate is far from concluded and there are now new demands that have given rise to even more controversial issues relating to how we end our lives and the means available to do so. Death is something that we will all face at some point and the way we confront this experience, as well as the way to end it, is of decisive importance. Public opinion around end-of-life choices and physician-assisted-death has wavered from total prohibition to moral acceptance and legalisation in some countries. When referring to physician-assisted-death, the term includes both euthanasia and physician-assisted-suicide, the sole difference being who is the active agent in the act of ending a life: doctors in the case of euthanasia and the patient herself in those cases of physician-assisted suicide.
More recently, and notably from the 1980s and 1990s, there is now a new topic relating to death within medical and familial contexts that requires attention: the duty to die. This can be understood as the responsibility to die at the right time in a world where resources are scarce in contemporary health care systems; and where the risks of becoming a burden to our loved ones due to a terminal illness are increasingly high. Thus, a whole review of doctors’ duties in helping patients die will be needed, as well as to what extent these duties must be performed.
The originality of my project lies in developing and analysing the ethical notion of a duty to die. In particular, I will argue that this approach can help to reappraise the controversial issue of physician assisted-dying from a new perspective and allow established ideas of patient autonomy to be challenged by a new bioethical conception of justice and individual obligation. Ultimately, this will offer more profound understanding of death in medical contexts and the ethics underlying those debates.
The ethical debate underlying the thesis will be addressed as a classic philosophical problem, where the point of departure is the pre-theoretical intuition that we could argue either to defend or deny the duty to die. The first step in this process will be the clarification of the grounds of duties in general and the putative duty to die in particular. Once this ‘metaethical’ groundwork has been laid, the project will then evaluate the main arguments for and against the alleged duty to die. As the project will be advocating for the responsibility to die at the right time, it will concentrate primarily on disarming the arguments used to deny the existence of this duty. Finally, it will demonstrate the strengths of the argument defending the duty to die and its direct impact by offering a thorough reconfiguration of the main aspects of the euthanasia debate.
The most exciting thing about being a research student is the opportunity to develop your own ideas and work on your intellectual interests in an organised and well-structured style, which helps researchers gain a detailed and all-embracing comprehension of their topics in depth.
The variety of training programmes and courses offered at Oxford Brookes is huge, preparing research students for their future academic careers, or any other career paths they decide to follow.
In the future, I aim to pursue an academic career of which this research forms the essential first step, not only in terms of obtaining a PhD but also in terms of establishing networks of fellow researchers.