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  3. Health Law and Ethics

Health Law and Ethics (LAWS90133)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90133
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject is designed to provide students with a broad understanding of some of the current legal, regulatory and ethical issues that arise in relation to promoting and protecting human health at an individual and population level. The subject aims to give students a sense of the breadth of the field that is ‘health law’ and to introduce them to some of the different ethical approaches commonly applied in this area, including utilitarianism, human rights, ethics of care, principle-based ethics and Kantian ethics. The subject will address the initial question of what it means to be ‘healthy’ and the appropriate role for law and regulation in in securing ‘good health’ before examining selected health law issues using an ethical framework.

At the individual level, students will have an opportunity to examine a range of current health dilemmas that arise from pre-birth to end of life decisions. Recent developments in reproductive medicine raise important ethical and legal questions about the status of the embryo, the welfare of the child to be born and the role of the state in regulating reproductive choice. Controversial topics include abortion, access to assisted reproductive treatment, selective reproduction, surrogacy and donor conception. Throughout a human lifetime, a myriad of health care decisions arise for an individual. Some of these can be challenging, particularly when the individual has diminished capacity or mental health issues. The subject will outline the doctrine of informed consent before giving students an opportunity to explore decision-making in complex cases.

The subject also introduces students to the notion of population health and some of the types of measures that are taken outside of health care settings in order to ensure the society’s health. Attention will be given to domestic and international legal mechanisms for responding to a range of communicable diseases (for example, Ebola and Zika viruses) and non-communicable diseases, such as those related to lifestyle factors (for example, tobacco use). The subject will also examine the domestic and international legal mechanisms available for ensuring that a society has a functioning health care system. In this context, students will study the role that international and domestic human rights law, in particular the right to health, play in securing access to quality health care goods and services.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have an advanced understanding of aspects of some of the major human health problems arising domestically and globally;
  • Have a sophisticated and integrated understanding of several established ethical theories relevant to human health;
  • Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the domestic and international laws and other regulation that apply in relation to the selection of emerging and contemporary issues in human health examined in the subject;
  • Be able to apply the relevant domestic and international laws to a range of novel and topical factual scenarios so as to reach logical and reasoned conclusions about the rights and obligations of individuals, organisations and the state.
  • Be able to apply the selected ethical theories in a critical, reflective and expert analysis of the laws and regulation that apply to a selection of issues in human health;
  • Be able to analyse critically and reflect on the role of domestic and international law and legal institutions in responding to, and resolving, dilemmas in human health;
  • Have been an engaged, knowledgeable and critical participant in debates concerning the effectiveness of laws and regulation in relation to a selection of the most controversial current issues in human health and the appropriateness of alternative options for regulation;
  • Have transmitted knowledge, ideas, analysis and reflections on an issue in health law to a specialist legal audience;
  • Have undertaken advanced legal research and analysed, reflected and synthesised knowledge, information, concepts and theories to produce a substantial and expert written work on an issue in health law; and
  • Have been required to demonstrate the autonomy, judgment, responsibility and accountability expected of an advanced learner of health law.

Generic skills

  • The ability to master the body of law and regulation associated with several key issues in human health;
  • The ability to understand and apply ethical theories so as to evaluate current laws or law reform proposals for human health.
  • The ability to critically and expertly analyse and reflect on an issue in human health from the perspective of the current law, the ethical questions raised and the available options and pathways for reform;
  • The ability to expertly communicate knowledge and ideas about health law in oral or written form;
  • The ability to work as a responsible, mature and engaged member of a team to present knowledge and ideas about health law to a specialist audience;
  • The ability to conduct independent research in health, with an understanding of when and how to seek helpful supervision;
  • The ability to provide valuable critical feedback to peers in relation to the presentation of ideas and concepts in health law;
  • The ability to confidently approach unfamiliar questions of health law, outside the subject (such as in professional contexts), through the application of the knowledge of related areas and the technical skills acquired in the subject.

Last updated: 12 September 2019