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Research, the Law and challenges of Assisted Dying
Completing the Circle

Introduction to the Master of Laws degree

There were many reasons why I began my Open University Master of Laws degree in 2012, which was successfully completed in November 2015 and entitles me to add the letters LLM (Open) to my collection of other qualifications.

My books “Quiet Quadrangles and Ivory Towers” and “Success at the Heart of Government. Working with Ministers” explain that I worked for the Open University since 1978, initially tutoring undergraduate numerical analysis and mathematics courses and then business and management courses in their MBAs. OU tutoring is contracted and is course specific. It requires a knowledge of the subject and also a supply of students. Each year I taught one, two or three courses sometimes with a short gap filled with consultancy work. Lately I taught T889 “Problem solving and improvement: quality and other approaches”. Friends may notice the relationship with my DTI work on the European Excellence Model and my numerical ability in analysing industrial data. One benefit of being a tutor is that there is a partial Fee Waiver for courses. While working in the DTI and tutoring there was no time for the luxury of being a student but in 2012 there were three simultaneous changes to the situation : firstly my mother died, secondly I collected my civil service pension and thirdly I was offered Leave of Absence from tutoring. Enrolling as a student was intended to reduce my boredom !

Studying is a commitment and the subject needs to be interesting. Pete has a cousin who is a retired solicitor and his firm have been dealing with our legal demands for over 40 years including supporting my work for my parents probate. I imagined I would enjoy studying law but as a research subject not as an undergraduate memorising “black letter” law. The OU began producing the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) course in 2005 and it was only in 2011 that the LLM followed. Here was my solution to boredom. Having an analytical mind and also being a successful academic meant that post-graduate studying had no fears. My initial idea was that a Masters was going to be straightforward and in many ways easier that doing undergraduate work. An LLM is only one half the size of an LLB. In OU jargon it is 180 credits compared with 360. All the LLM courses could be studied remotely, there were no face-to-face lectures and no written exam.

The LLM has three compulsory 6-month law courses, then one optional course, and a final 12-month research dissertation. I started the first course in November 2012 aiming to complete in November 2015. I soon found that academic lawyers are made in a different mould to scientists, engineers and managers. Presentation of arguments and use of information have to be carefully crafted and because of this the actual writing of assignments took much longer than assembling the ideas and information. Referencing and citation were an enormous problem, partly because I didn't keep a research diary and partly because I was unfamiliar with the required notation. When I was a research scientist at Oxford I knew that my work was original because I had good contact with all the eminent international academics and was carrying out brand new original research developing new methods and tools. Its not like that with the law at Masters level.

The dissertation submitted for the Degree of Master of Laws (LL.M)
Assisted Dying: Comparisons Between England and New Zealand

I survived, gradually gaining better scores in my assignments, and after two years was well prepared for embarking on a serious project for my dissertation. The topic, assisted dying, was suggested by a pamphlet which fell out of the Saga magazine. The idea of using the methodology of comparative legal research appealed to my benchmarking and policy transfer instincts. The use of New Zealand as a comparative was obvious because I know the country as well as I know the UK. The only challenge was that the usual application of comparative legal research is to take an existing law in one country and to look at the opportunities to transplant that law into another country. Neither England nor New Zealand had legislation for assisted dying although both countries had attempted unsuccessfully to legislate. After starting my research in November 2014 the situation in the UK became suddenly very topical. During 2015 the House of Lords were debating the Second Reading of an Assisted Dying Bill and after the 2015 election the House of Commons voted at First Reading overwhelmingly against progressing their matching Assisted Dying Bill. It was not a result I expected and required a re-write of sections of the dissertation. In such a turbulent and negative political situation the traditional approach to comparative legal research is difficult to apply.

I am grateful to OU colleagues who have encouraged me to continue my research and publish my work in order to contribute to the debate on the topic. My initial plan is to extend my analysis using a third country, Canada. There is a real possibility that Bill 52 in Quebec will be the basis for new legislation across the country. It follows that a discussion on the relevance of transplanting their legislation to England and New Zealand may provide useful and relevant ideas. My research project for 2016 ?

You can currently Download or View the Dissertation depending on whether your browser is set up to display PDF files. A overview of the dissertation is being written and will be available shortly.

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Content revised: 15 th December, 2015