11 June 2019
Every seven terms, academics at Lancaster University can apply for a four month period of either academic research leave or education research leave. I was awarded academic research leave from mid-December 2018 until mid-April 2019, to undertake activities linked to three of my current research projects.

During my leave my aims were to:

  1. Plan and draft an article based on the findings from my British Academy/Leverhulme Trust funded research, with Dr Mary Neal from the University of Strathclyde, exploring pharmacists’ perceptions of ethical conflict and professional guidance.
  2. Write an article as part of my Royal Society of Edinburgh funded project looking at accommodating conscientious objection in health care, with Dr Mary Neal from the University of Strathclyde and Dr Stephen Smith from Cardiff University. We have established ACoRN, Accommodating Conscience Research Network, to explore the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘when’ of accommodating conscientious objection in health care practice, via a series of four roundtables including academics and postgraduates (law, philosophy, medicine), practitioners (law, medicine), and professional associations and regulators (British Medical Association, General Medical Council).
  3. Complete an article on best interests, pregnancy and the Mental Health Act 1983.

Preparing for leave:

As I knew in advance that I was going on leave, I had hoped to prepare for it by:

(i) Coding and analysing the 23 interviews with pharmacists in England and Scotland which Mary and I had conducted during 2018. In the interviews we asked pharmacists about their views on the extent to which (if at all) personal values should play a role in professional decision-making, and particularly about whether pharmacists should be able to conscientiously object to providing certain medicines.
(ii) Presenting a draft of the paper on conscientious objection and the vulnerable professional, at the Law and Society Association in Toronto in June 2018.
(iii) Re-reading the cases on the delivery decisions of women under the MHA, along with relevant literature.

These seemed reasonable plans, but what actually happened?

The reality:

Early in 2018, I was invited to participate in a workshop on ‘Parental Decision Making’ at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. This workshop followed the high profile court cases involving Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, and I presented a paper looking at the role of the court in parental requests for experimental treatment (‘Preserving the therapeutic alliance: Court intervention and experimental treatment requests’). I developed my presentation into a chapter for inclusion in an edited collection and sent it to the editors in September 2018. At the start of my research leave, I received feedback on my chapter and so I spent the first part of my leave revising my chapter. The edited collection will be published by Hart in November 2019 (I Goold, J Herring, C Auckland (eds), Parental Rights, Best Interests and Significant Harms Medical Decision-Making on Behalf of Children Post-Great Ormond Street Hospital v Gard.

Having finished that chapter, I could turn my attention to what I said I would do during my research leave, and to start planning and drafting an article based on the findings from my pharmacy project.

I had hoped to code and analyse the interviews by September 2018, so that Mary and I would have a sense of how the three articles we told the funders we would write, would take shape. These will be two shorter articles (about 3000 words each) for a pharmacy journal and a medical ethics journal, and a longer one (about 10,000 words), for a health care law journal. Planning and drafting this longer article was to be part of my work during my leave.

Unfortunately, I was off work ill in June-July 2018 and was still affected by my illness during the summer months, so I did not complete coding the interviews or the data analysis before my leave started. As well as this, for the first six months of the academic year 2018-19, Mary was Acting Head of her Law School and this also obviously limited our ability to work together.

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t finish coding the data until I was nearly half-way through my research leave, and it was only then that I was able to start the data analysis. Both coding and data analysis are time consuming and crucial parts of empirical research. It’s essential to take care with these stages in the research process because everything hinges on them. I thus spent a large part of my leave completing the coding and analysing our interview data. While I have not started to draft the article, as I have been coding the interviews and analysing the data, I have an idea (in my head at least) as to how I see it taking shape. I just need to put pen to paper!

While I am disappointed that I didn’t get further with this project, my analysis of the data suggests that we have the opportunity to produce more articles which are not concerned with pharmacists’ personal ethics and professional guidance per se (the subject of the original project), but with related matters.

As to my second aim, here I was more successful. I presented the paper as planned in Toronto in June 2018, and then Mary and I were going to develop it into an article for a special issue of The New Bioethics on conscientious objection, which we are guest editing. We talked about leaving the paper as it was and just ‘polishing’ it, but we’ve gone for a harder option and we’re developing the presentation into two separate articles. The first is for publication in the special issue and is called ‘Is conscientious objection incompatible with healthcare professionalism?’. Work on the second article is currently ongoing.

My final aim for my research leave was to write an article on applying the best interests test to the delivery decisions of women who are under the Mental Health Act 1983. I have been thinking about and working on this topic for some time and have presented my initial thoughts as a work-in-progress at a number of universities. Despite this, my plans to put pen to paper during the summer of 2018 and to complete the article by Easter 2019, have not been fulfilled. What I do have, though, is three quarters of a full draft, which a colleague at another institution has read and provided positive and constructive feedback on. What I need now is the time to finish the final crucial quarter of that article!

So, reflecting on my leave I could see both ‘success’ and ‘failure’, but I prefer not to see what happened in such terms. Instead, for reasons outside my control my best laid plans had to change, and I had to adapt and be flexible. I see my research leave as time well spent, and I hope the University does too!