Dissertation Abstracts

Research Decisions: Living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Author: Skyrme, Sarah L, sarahskyrme@googlemail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Newcastle University, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Professor Janice McLaughlin; Dr Simon Woods
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: disabled children , Duchenne muscular dystrophy , medical research , decision-making
Areas of Research: Childhood , Body in the Social Sciences , Health


Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe form of muscular dystrophy that affects males. Muscle deterioration leads to increasing levels of disability during childhood and adolescence, with death commonly occurring in the late teens or early twenties, although changes in care and treatment are leading to increasing numbers of boys with DMD living into adulthood. Parents and parent-led charities are raising funds to find effective treatments and a cure, and much of the medical research they promote requires the participation of those with DMD. This raises questions about children and young people’s involvement in research, including their role and approach to consent and how willing they are to be involved in the medical research their parents and DMD charities advocate. Through qualitative interviews with nine boys and young men with DMD and one young woman with muscular dystrophy, I explored their thoughts on medical research and the broader issue of how they live and cope with their condition. As part of this discussion I examined how they might make a decision to participate in medical research, focusing on the processes, interactions and individuals they consider important in helping them to decide.
My approach privileges the participants’ thoughts and opinions, positioning them as able social actors (James & Prout 1997) who can provide insight into their experiences. Currently little is known about the lives of children and young people with a significant, degenerative disability, particularly around their thoughts on medical research participation and decision-making (Dixon-Woods 2006). The views of my participants provide the basis for this research, with work from the sociology of childhood and from disability studies informing and contextualising it. The way in which parents are involved in daily life is discussed to gain an understanding of how the participants work with those they trust. This relationship may provide understandings of how decisions are influenced by family input and how support assists those who are young and have a degenerative condition. It is possible that this model of working with the significant people in their lives promotes agency and independence, aiding the participants towards, rather than away from autonomy.

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