Public Lecture Series 2013: The Right to Die is the Ultimate Personal Freedom

Starts: Monday 18 March 2013 7:00 pm
Ends: Monday 18 March 2013 9:00 pm
Event type Public Lecture
Location Main Auditorium, Eastern Gateway Building
Are we - and should we be - in control of what happens at the end of our lives? Is there any such thing as the 'right' to die, and if so why should only the dying be granted it?

Chair: Andrew Ward
Speakers: Mary Gilhooly, Abimbola Olowofoyeku, Clive Seale, Heinz Wolff

The debate on whether ‘the right to die is the ultimate personal freedom’ will be addressed by leading academics in the fields of ageing studies, law and sociology and also the polymathic Professor Heinz Wolff. Professor Mary Gilhooly will clarify key terms in the debate and challenge us to consider whether it is right that only the dying have the right to die. Professor Abimbola (Bimbo) Olowofoyeku will argue that there is no such thing as the right to die and any talk of such a right is a Western indulgence. Professor Clive Seale will look at what actually seems to be happening to people towards the end of their lives, including whether some of them exercise the 'right to die' in spite of laws that say they ought not to do so. Finally, Professor Heinz Wolff will speak to the following proposition: "I want to know enough about myself to make the rational decision regarding my right to life and not appoint another person to carry the burden of being my executioner".

Speaker profiles

Mary Gilhooly

A psychologist by training, Mary Gilhooly is Executive Director of the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies and Deputy Head for Research in the School of Health Sciences and Social Care at Brunel. Professor Gilhooly’s research has covered topics as varied as petitioning the House of Lords on the subject of ‘living wills’, research on the effects of doing crosswords on cognitive ageing, and the role of ICT in quality of life.

Professor Gilhooly conducted one of the first studies in the UK on family care of people with dementia. Research funded by the ESRC includes studies on (a) transport and ageing, and (b) quality of life and real life cognitive functioning. Grants in the New Dynamics of Ageing programme include a study of decision-making in detecting financial elder abuse and research on incontinence. 

Professor Gilhooly was President of the British Society of Gerontology from 2000 to 2004.

Abimbola Olowofoyeku

Abimbola Olowofoyeku is a Professor of Law and the Director of the Centre for International and Public Law. He specialises in the field of public law, and has written widely on issues of judicial accountability, independence and impartiality.

Clive Seale

Clive Seale is Professor of Sociology at Brunel, specialising in medical and health social research. Much of his work concerns ethics and issues in end of life care, focusing on decisions that doctors make about actions that they think may have a life-shortening effect, the provision of sedative drugs to people who are close to death, and doctors' attitudes towards legalising assisted dying. Some of his current work is being done in collaboration with researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium, where euthanasia is allowed by law.

He sees his role as providing factual evidence in the debate about the right to die and tries not to take sides about whether the legalisation of assisted dying is a good or a bad thing. He gave evidence to the Commission on Assisted Dying and his research findings have been widely publicised in the mass media.

Heinz Wolff 

Professor Heinz Wolff graduated in Physiology and Physics and probably was the first individual to call himself a “Bioengineer”. He has worked as the director of Bioengineering Divisions for the MRC at both the National Institute for Medical Research and the Clinical Research Centre. Whilst serving as the UK delegate on the appropriate EC Standing Committee he coined the phrase “Tools for Living” to describe any technology intended to enhance the quality of life of people suffering from a disability.

In 1983 he founded the self-financing Institute for Bioengineering at Brunel University (BIB), which he directed until 1995. For many years the principal activity of BIB was to design equipment for astronauts to enable them to conduct biological experiments in space, in an environment where there was no effective gravity. However, design and development in the Tools for Living areas has been an activity which has always figured prominently on the BIB research programme. 

Heinz has led a double life, sharing his professorial duties with those of a scientific entertainer on Radio and TV and as a prolific lecturer. He is now Emeritus Professor of Bioengineering at Brunel, leading a team concerned with social innovation leading to a national community based Social Enterprise to provide Care and Support for frail elderly people. The programme is called Care4Care. Both he and his wife Joan are now 85.

Page last updated: Monday 28 January 2013