Professor Deirdre Madden, School of Law

Deirdre Madden, Professor of Law

Deirdre Madden, Professor of Law

College: Business & Law

School: Law

Research Interests: Medical law and ethics, with a particular emphasis on reproduction and genetics, consent, confidentiality, patient safety, transplantation, professional regulation, end of life care, biobanking & research ethics

IRIS profile:

What first attracted you to your academic discipline?

Although there were no lawyers in my family, I think my family background was what drew me towards law.  My father, a mathematics teacher who had studied philosophy and logic in UCC in the late 1940s, was a massive influence in my life; he enjoyed debating the issues of the day with me and would push me to the extremes of my position to foster my understanding of logic and reason.  He had a very strong sense of social justice and always encouraged me to be an independant thinker, both of which instinctively led me towards a career in law.

How were you drawn to your current research interests?

I particularly enjoyed family law when I was a law student as the human dimension of the subject really brought academic legal theory to life for me.  The first surrogacy case in England was decided during the year I studied family law and I became fascinated by advances in reproductive technologies, the complexity of family relationships involved in these new methods of family formation, and the interests of the children born by way of these new methods.  I was very fortunate to be given a university scholarship to pursue my masters on surrogacy, and subsequently did a PhD on the law relating to assisted reproduction.  Since then, my research has taken me into broader areas of medical law and ethics, areas which I find as interesting and challenging now as I did thirty years ago!

What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?

I have been very lucky to have had a long, interesting and rewarding career but two achievements in particular come to mind.  The first is getting my PhD - researching and writing my thesis was very enjoyable but also very challenging because I was working full-time as a lecturer in the Law School and had four small children, two of whom were born during the four years it took me to complete my thesis.  Getting to the finish line, achieving that personal goal and making my parents proud was one of the best moments in my career.

The second stand-out achievement was the report I was commissioned by the Minister for Health to write on organ retention following post-mortem examinations.  This was an issue that was fraught with emotion for many people and I was quite intimidated by the task when I was asked to take it on but I worked hard and wrote a report that I felt balanced the different professional and personal perspectives.  I am very proud that my recommendations have been incorporated into a new Human Tissue Bill, which I hope addresses the issues in a way that respects the complexities involved from all sides.

Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?

I have been very lucky to be taught by and work with fantastic people who impress me daily with their intelligence, work ethic, ambition and commitment to students.  I can't say that I had any one particular professional role model but those who have influenced me the most in my life are my parents, who taught me the value of education, family and hard work.  My father used to say "If you have a career in teaching, you will never be a day bored in your life", and he was right!

What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

I find the work that I have been doing for many years on health policy reform particularly rewarding as I like to think it makes a real difference to medical practice and health care and ultimately to people's lives.

I find interdisciplinary engagement and collaboration in policy formation particularly rewarding as I learn so much from colleagues in other disciplines, which helps to inform my own thinking on why the law is as it is and how it might be changed to better serve the needs of patients, users of our health service, and those who work in it.

I like making law real for people, whether they are students, professionals from other disciplines, healthcare workers or members of the public, for whom it might otherwise feel somewhat alien and intimidating.  I enjoy translating legal concepts into everyday familiar language that people can understand as I firmly believe that the law exists for all citizens and should be accessible and comprehensible to everyone.

Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?

I consider myself very lucky in my career to have been given the many oportunities I have been given to advance my interest in public policy and health care reform and I have never felt that being female has affected my ability to take on those opportunities.  Many of the professsional environments in which I have worked over the years have been male-dominated but I have never let that affect the way I work so I can't say that being female has impacted upon my career negatively or positively in that sense.

Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?

It is not easy having a career and raising small children and there have certainly been lots of times when I didn't get the work-life balance right but overall I think I have been very lucky to have the flexibilty of an academic career, which has enabled me to attend the important events in my children's lives and make up the time in the evenings and weekends if I needed to.

I would advise a younger colleague or my younger self to always remember that an academic career is a privilege, that nothing is impossible, and that if you have children, to make sure you take maternity leave as you won't get those precious times back again and ultimately your family is the most important thing in your life.

Athena SWAN

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