Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (2.07 MB)

The Right to Die and the Communal Body - An examination of the media influence, ethical principles and stakeholder attitudes towards assisted dying in New Zealand from a sociology in bioethics perspective

Download (2.07 MB)
Version 2 2023-09-26, 23:57
Version 1 2021-11-23, 20:20
posted on 2023-09-26, 23:57 authored by Revell-Dennett, Sarah

This thesis is based on a sociology in bioethics approach which seeks to demonstrate that the current rhetoric being used by parties on both sides of the debate is no longer useful for the realities that people are expressing or living. In sociology, the assisted dying literature has tended to focus on the social, political, economic and cultural contexts within which it is sought, and to understand the range of definitions that are used to conceptualise a good death. Bioethics literature, on the other hand, has removed the socially situated individual from ethical discussions of assisted dying. By engaging with an idea of the communal body, interpreted as a moral community who experience intersubjective realties, this thesis provides a platform to combine these two perspectives. It seeks to examine the range of possibilities for understanding the socially situated and relationally autonomous individual requesting medically-assisted death.  The debate in New Zealand surrounding the right-to-die was brought to the fore in 2015 when terminally ill Lecretia Seales took a case to the High Court. Her argument sought a clarification of the current law, which would have allowed her doctor to provide life-ending medication should her pain and suffering become unbearable. Seales’ case was unsuccessful but it, along with the following events, has succeeded in bringing attention about end-of-life choices to the New Zealand public and media. The current End of Life Choice Bill, which stands before Parliament and was proposed by Member of Parliament (MP) David Seymour of the ACT Party, will once again provide a chance for these issues to be voted on by New Zealand’s elected officials.  A critical analysis of provincial New Zealand media articles, across the time periods between 2002-2005 and 2012-2015, has sought to highlight the ways the media influences public perceptions of the debate and emphasises the limited discourse available. These years represent significant periods during which events in time led the media to variably describe these deaths from murders to mercy killings. Further thematic analysis (TA) of 12 interviews undertaken with stakeholders in the field of medically-assisted dying show discrepancies between lay public knowledge and informed stakeholder views.  Overall, this thesis situates the communal body within the right-to-die argument in New Zealand. The results lend themselves to support a view that the current lack of available discourse has for the most part irrevocably rendered a divide between those who campaign for change and those who do not. In this thesis, I argue that by positioning itself within a sociology in bioethics approach, the right-to-die debate in New Zealand will be afforded a clearer understanding.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Shaw, Rhonda; el-Ojeili, Chamsy