Elizabeth Wicks, The Right to Life and Conflicting Interests, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 288 pp, hb £50.00.

AuthorJulie McCandless
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2230.12009_1
Publication Date01 Jan 2013
REVIEWS
Elizabeth Wicks,The Right to Life and Conflicting Interests, Oxford and New
York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 288 pp, hb £50.00.
In The Right to Life and Conflicting Interests, Elizabeth Wicks pursues a detailed
analysis of the human right to life across a number of significant areas. While
several of these relate primarily to the healthcare arena – such as abortion, assisted
suicide and the allocation of resources for healthcare treatment – and extend
Wicks’ existing body of work on human rights in healthcare,further included are
a number of other important areas where the right to life has potential applica-
tion, such as situations of armed conflict, the death penalty and the use of lethal
force in law enforcement.It is rare to see such a breadth of case-studies together
in the few edited collections on the right to life, never-mind in a single authored
monograph and it is clear that Wicks has approached this ambitious task with
rigour.All of the case studies are comprehensively researched andWicks addresses
a vast array of controversial questions attached to each throughout her analysis.
The detail and nuance of each of her substantive chapters is quite remarkable and
makes this an extremely valuable resource for academics and students, practi-
tioners and other professionals interested in the human right to life.
The underlying purpose of the book is to examine how the right to life fares
when other competing rights and interests conflict with it.This is far from an easy
task, particularly given the extensive range of controversial ethical, social and
political issues which Wicks seeks to address in her book. Before the various
case-study chapters (chs 4–9), Wicks begins her book with three important
preliminary chapters which help to establish her conceptual framework and to
which she usefully refers back to throughout her analysis.
The first of these provides an introduction to the common ponder, ‘the
meaning of life’.Wicks concludes that a human organism has ‘life’ from viabil-
ity to brain death. As this is a position which essentially corresponds with
current healthcare law and professional regulation, it is perhaps not that con-
troversial, but her discussion does encourage the reader to think about the
conceptual basis for the human right to life. Wicks’ justification for this con-
clusion is based on the high level ability of humans to exercise consciousness.
Again, this is a common justification. Instead, what makes Wicks’ conclusion
interesting is actually the number of important caveats and qualifications which
she attaches to the primary justification of consciousness. Key here is her con-
tention that diminished consciousness should not prevent an individual from
benefiting from the protection to human life in general – a type of deonto-
logical reasoning that once human life is deemed valuable, it is deemed inher-
ently valuable for all. As we see in her later chapters, however, Wicks does not
argue in her book that human life is worth sustaining at all costs, ie it is not
absolute. Instead, she contends that in some circumstances, a conflicting interest
may well outweigh the value in (a) human life and the state’s protection
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© 2013 theAuthor s.The Modern Law Review © 2013 the Modern Law ReviewLimited. (2013) 76(1) MLR 178–190
Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX42DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden,MA 02148, USA

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