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Law and Emerging Health Technologies (LAWS70421)

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

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Year of offer2019
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 a variety of fascinating technologies including genetic, big data analytics, regenerative, therapeutic, artificial intelligence and reproductive technologies. It challenges students to think not only about the future of medicine, but the future of human life itself. Are legal systems dealing with these issues in adequate, legitimate, and strategic ways?

Significantly, the course is not simply for medical lawyers. The syllabus weaves specific technological case-studies with important cross-cutting themes drawn from regulation theory, law reform, and applied philosophy. Those themes are organised so as to provide a framework for critical thinking about regulatory reform and the role of law, lawyers and the medical profession in this process. The themes also impart knowledge and skills relevant to a wide range of industries where law must deal with substantial scientific uncertainty and ethical controversy. Students with interests in privacy, human rights, tort law, IT governance, artificial intelligence, science and technology, family law, and risk regulation are all catered for.

The subject will not be limited to any particular jurisdiction, but focusses on Australian and European law and draws widely on world events. It 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.

Principal topics include:

  • Human enhancement, cryogenics and other controversial scientific techniques
  • Reproductive technologies ‘old and ‘new’ including IVF, embryo selection, artificial gametes, womb transplants and ectogenesis
  • ‘Big data’, data analytics, AI and machine-based learning in healthcare
  • Genetic technology, gene editing and personalised medicine
  • Future therapeutics
  • Regenerative medicine including organ transplants and human stem cell treatments
  • Other topical issues that arise while the subject is being taught.

Cross-cutting themes include:

  • Challenges of uncertainty, ambiguity, transformative potential and technological ‘drivers’
  • ‘Ladders’ of regulatory intervention
  • Phases in the maturation of health technology regulation
  • Bioethical debates surrounding utility, autonomy, best interests and the public interest
  • Limits of informed consent and paternalism as regulatory devices
  • Regulatory ‘tourism’
  • The purpose and impact of public engagement
  • Other recurrent ethical and social issues such as technological exceptionalism and moral relativism
  • Different policymaking cultures
  • Incentives for innovation with a particular focus on cutting-edge issues in patent law

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 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 common law precedent development, and 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: 1 October 2019