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  3. Health Law and Emerging Technologies

Health Law and Emerging Technologies (LAWS70421)

Graduate coursework level 7Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2018
Subject levelGraduate coursework Level 7
Subject codeLAWS70421
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject will examine ways in which law is affecting, and being affected by, the latest advances in medical technology. It will cover genetic, big data, regenerative, pharmaceutical and reproductive technologies. See below for examples of some of the pressing concerns facing health service providers, government agencies, other regulatory bodies, academics in many fields and, more broadly, society.

  • Genetic technology and personalised medicine
    • Does/should the law criminalise inheritable gene-editing?
    • Who is/should be liable when genetic analysis goes wrong?
    • Can/should genetic information be shared with relatives?
  • Big data
    • Do companies like Google have too much access to patients’ personal health data?
    • Are biobanks and genomic repositories appropriately regulated?
  • Regenerative medicine
    • Does/should the law allow stem cell research with embryos?
    • Should we allow face and womb transplants?
    • Why doesn’t the law allow you to buy a kidney to save your life?
  • Reproductive medicine
    • Does the law sufficiently regulate IVF providers?
    • For which medical conditions is/should pre-natal diagnosis be allowed?
  • Pharmaceuticals
    • Does the law appropriately regulate clinical trials and marketing of new drugs?
    • Does the law provide sufficient and appropriate intellectual property incentives for the discovery of new drugs?

Discussion will weave specific case studies with larger, cross-cutting themes that apply generally to the legal regulation of emerging technologies. Discussion will not be limited to any particular jurisdiction but will draw widely on world events.

The subject will be taught by Dr Kathleen Liddell, Director of the Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences (Cambridge), who has more than 20 years’ experience in academia, legal practice, law reform, policy advice and ethical analysis.

This subject provides a critical examination of a range of new developments in medicine and science. In particular, it examines ways in which law is affecting, and being affected by, new technologies such as genetic, big data, regenerative, pharmaceutical, and reproductive technologies. Students will choose a topic for focused research and writing, and in class we will discuss legal issues and law reform relating to:

  • gene-editing, cryogenics and other emerging scientific techniques
  • pharmaceutical research, incentives and getting new drugs to market
  • assisted reproduction and pre-natal diagnosis
  • large commercial companies accessing big health data
  • genetic technology and personalised medicine
  • regenerative medicine: organ transplants and human stem cell research
  • other topical issues that arise later and while the subject is being taught.

The following cross-cutting themes will be discussed in class and may form a central theme in students’ dissertations:

  • Balancing autonomy, best interests and the public interest
  • Limits of informed consent as a regulatory device
  • Other recurrent ethical and social issues
  • ‘Ladders’ of regulatory intervention
  • Different policymaking cultures
  • Legal incentives for emerging technologies
  • Typical causes of action (property, tort, negligence, criminal law, statutory breaches).

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the medical or scientific basis of the various emerging technologies considered in the classes.
  • Be able to critically evaluate, analyse, interpret and assess relevant ethical and legal issues arising from those technologies.
  • Have an advanced understanding of issues of human rights, equality of access to health care and potential discrimination that may arise in emerging technologies, including in an international context
  • Have examined a range of legislation and law reports in order to understand underlying principles that may be relevant when new technologies emerge, particularly when there seem to be no applicable legal principles in an emerging area.
  • Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas, and to critically evaluate existing legal theories, principles and concepts
  • Be able to suggest and evaluate legal and other changes that may be appropriate to regulate emerging technologies.
  • Have an advanced understanding of the factors and processes driving parliamentary revision of the legal framework; and other means of achieving regulatory change, such as ethical and professional guidelines.
  • Have advanced communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information to specialist and non-specialist audiences; and to be an engaged participant in ongoing debates regarding emerging and contemporary issues in the field.
  • Be able to critically analyse ethical and legal issues arising from new technologies in a detailed, fully referenced research essay.

Last updated: 29 March 2019