Symposium on Law, Compassion, Dignity, and Vulnerability

Symposium on Law, Compassion, Dignity, and Vulnerability
21 Jun 2018, 14:00 to 21 Jun 2018, 17:00
Conference / Symposium
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR


Increasing attention is being paid to the concepts of vulnerability, dignity, and compassion in law and legal scholarship (e.g. Fineman and Grear, 2014; McCrudden, 2014; Feenan, 2017, respectively).

Sometimes, the concepts are used coterminously, even interchangeably – as is evident in some debates on legalisation of assisted dying or in disputes about withdrawal of treatment from mentally-incompetent patients. Yet, there are important differences between the concepts. Dignity features in human rights. Vulnerability is increasingly incorporated into procedural protections. Compassion appears across a wide range of law, including in adjudication of the best interests test. There are also significant intersections between the concepts of vulnerability, dignity, and compassion.

These differences and intersections matter. They inform law, policy, and practice. They are potentially universally important; bearing upon, for instance, international refugee law, but they may also impact national laws and policies on social welfare and criminal justice.

This symposium aims to examine the concepts and their relationship with each other. Deeper examination of the concepts can have real-world impact. As such, this event is intended to appeal not only to legal academics working on questions cognate to these concepts, but also to holders of judicial office, legal practitioners, and others keen to explore the implications of these concepts for their work.

Three leading legal scholars on each concept will examine that concept with reference to the others. Those presentations will then be evaluated by one of the most prominent judges who has both referred to these concepts in his judgements and addressed high-profile cases often seen as emblematic of the issues in question.


On compassion

DERMOT FEENAN, Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, England. Founder and Convenor of the Law and Compassion Research Network. Author of ‘Law and Compassion’, International Journal of Law in Context (2017).

On vulnerability

Professor JONATHAN HERRING, Vice-Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, England. DM Wolfe-Clarendon Fellow in Law, Exeter College. Author of Vulnerable Adults and the Law (2016).

On dignity

MARY NEAL PhD, Senior Lecturer, Law School, University of Strathclyde, Scotland. Author of ‘Respect for Human Dignity as Substantive Basic Norm’, International Journal of Law in Context (2014) and member of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee.


The Hon. Mr. JUSTICE HAYDEN, Judge of the High Court of England and Wales, whose judgements include: Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust v Evans [2018] EWHC 308 (Fam) – allowing withdrawal of treatment from infant Alfie Evans; and Re N [2015] EWCOP 76 – allowing withdrawal of treatment from a ‘minimally conscious’ 68-year-old woman suffering from multiple sclerosis.


Professor PENNEY LEWIS, Professor of Law, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London. Member of the National Research and Ethics Advisors’ Panel.

Organised in association with the Law and Compassion Research Network.

Academic coordinator: Dermot Feenan 

The symposium fee, including mid-afternoon refreshments, is: £35.00.


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