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Academic publishes book on ‘Critically Impaired Infants and End of Life Decision Making’

"Just because we can save these babies born at 23 weeks, does it mean we should?"

Dr Neera Bhatia talks about her experience completing a PhD with Deakin Law School, tackling the hard questions and getting her book published on a multinational level.

Exploring the legal and ethical implications surrounding end of life decision making for critically impaired and extremely premature infants, Dr Bhatia's PhD topic developed from a small section touched on in her Master's thesis completed in the UK in 2003.

When it came to her PhD proposal, she realised that there was a gap and no one was considering issues around resource allocation and how it applies to extremely premature infants.

'The main premise of my book is that the allocation of finite healthcare resources should be a serious consideration in end of life decision making for this select group of patients. With an ageing population and limited healthcare funds these difficult questions have to be answered. The book highlights that despite rapid advancements in technology and medical science allowing extremely premature infants to be 'saved' from death they are still overwhelmingly subject to severe disability. 

'Just because we can save these babies born at 23 weeks, does it mean we should, knowing that finite public resources can be spent on other patients, children and even babies born at a later gestational period and are likely to make a greater health improvement?'

While exploring these questions, an interesting element Dr Bhatia discovered, were the reactions she received from people about her thesis.

'I didn't think that people would be so interested and have such polarised opinions and show such emotion about this particular topic.

'Some will say that you are wrong, some will agree with you and others will say they share the same opinion but would never say it out loud – perhaps this is expected given that talking about putting a 'price' or 'value' on life is so taboo in society.'

Comprised of 100,000 words, a PhD is a colossal task by any means. And, aside from securing a publisher for her first book, Dr Bhatia says she also discovered and learnt a lot of other valuable lessons.

'Writing a PhD can be a very lonely pursuit, it's a long journey that can often feel like the final destination is nowhere in sight. It's not often that you will write so many words in in one manuscript in your lifetime.

'On this journey you develop and learn skills that you may not have thought of before. You acquire high-level analytical, research and time-management skills, diligence and learn other life and academic lessons along the way. Learning how to write clearly, articulately  and in a lucid manner are all attributes transferrable to any job offer you may take, whether in academia or in any other industry,' she says.

With the valuable experiences and development opportunities involved in a research project, Dr Bhatia says she also encountered hurdles such as writers block and finding the motivation to keep going.

Looking at the project in bite-sized chunks rather than as one entire task, as well as the great support from her supervisor, Dean of Law and Head of the Deakin Law School, Professor Mirko Bagaric, helped with overcoming any doubts.

'Mirko was a fantastic and extremely efficient supervisor. My professional relationship with Mirko  has continued since completing my PhD and as a mentor he still guides me and provides valuable advice in terms of my research and driving my career forward.'

Reminiscing about the overall experience and in anticipation of her forthcoming book release, Dr Bhatia describes her PhD journey with Deakin as one of the best things she has ever done.

'I have no regrets about leaving the UK and moving to Australia, I was very fortunate to have been successful in obtaining an International Deakin Scholarship to pursue my PhD.

'By no means is it an easy task, but it is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done. And, it's great to  work with people in the law school who are research driven and to have the ability to walk down the corridor and bounce research ideas around with colleagues,' she says.

'Critically Impaired Infants and End of Life Decision Making – Resource Allocation and Difficult Decisions', published by Routledge Cavendish will be released in early June 2015. It will also be available through Amazon and the Book Depository and can be pre-ordered now.

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