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This course provides an opportunity to study the ethical and legal issues that arise in health care and related fields. The course explores the moral problems that those working in these fields face in the course of their work, provides the background for recognising issues that may raise legal liability in these contexts, and reflects the legal and social context in which health care practice is situated.
Teaching is delivered in short intense blocks, enabling those in full-time employment to do the course part-time and fit it around the demands of their work wherever they are based. It is taught by staff from the School of Law and Centre for Professional Ethics, all of whom have research interests in health care law and ethics, and who between them have written a broad range of books and articles in this area. From time to time, expert speakers from outside Keele may also be invited to speak on the course. In addition to outside speakers directly connected to the course, Keele hosts a wide range of seminars, workshops, lectures and visiting fellowships.
Many of these activities are available free of charge to Keele students.
The Medical Ethics and Law teaching team have many years experience of teaching postgraduate applied ethics courses. We are aware of the special problems and challenges which may face mature students and those combining study with full-time work, and therefore we do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning.
This course aims to deepen students’ understanding of health care ethics and law, and to enhance their ability to think systematically about the moral and legal issues that health care professionals may face in the course of their work. It also aims to provide a foundation for pursuing further study at doctoral level for those interested in doing so.
Undertaking an MA in ethics will not give you an easy list of answers to moral problems. The moral problems worth looking at are all hard – there are no easy answers. What our courses can do is help you to work out answers for yourself, answers that are worth having because they’re based on the best ethical thinking and reasoning we can manage, answers you can justify, to yourself and others. The MA course will give you an introduction to a number of different (rival) moral theories - all of which have their strengths and their weaknesses - as well as providing you with a range of analytical tools with which to assess different ethical claims. It will also help you to communicate ethical arguments to others in a clearer way.
Although ethical issues are rarely out of the headlines for very long, much public 'debate' about ethics in the media is (with occasional honourable exceptions) of very poor quality. It often consists of 'sound-bite' rhetorical assertions followed by counter-assertions, without any real examination of the ethical reasons for either position. Our courses will help you to construct, categorise and criticise different ethical arguments and to spot common fallacies. As well as introducing you to arguments that others have put forward, our courses allow plenty of opportunity for students to practise putting forward their own arguments and discussing complex moral cases. Ethics at Keele is a participatory activity, not a spectator sport!
The course is open to all those with either a degree in a relevant subject, or appropriate professional qualifications and/or experience. Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in health care ethics and law, including (but not limited to) doctors, nurses, midwives, health care managers, physiotherapists, radiographers, chaplains, and voluntary workers.
Students studying medicine can opt to take a year out of their undergraduate medical studies in order to study a subject area in greater depth, before returning to complete the medical course. Intercalating students would take the MA in Medical Ethics and Law as full-time students to ensure that the course is completed within one year.
The MA in Medical Law and Ethics includes both taught sessions and a chance for students to write a dissertation on a topic in health care ethics or law. Teaching occurs in four three-day modules that run between September and April. This innovative structure has proved particularly popular with health care professionals in full-time employment as it allows students to combine study with full-time work, and family and other commitments. It also enables students who are based in all areas of the UK and beyond to attend. Contact between students and staff, and between students, is facilitated between modules to create a distinctive student community.
The MA requires the successful completion of 180 M Level credits, made up of four 30-credit taught modules and a 60-credit dissertation. It can be taken either full-time or part-time. When taken part-time the four taught modules are completed in the first year, with the dissertation being completed in the second year. When taking this route there are no specific attendance requirements during the second year.
If the course is being taken full-time, it can be completed within one year with the dissertation being submitted at the start of September.
Some students may not want to do the whole course. An alternative route is to leave after completing the four taught modules. Successful completion of these will lead to the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Ethics and Law.
The content of the modules is briefly outlined below with illustrations the topics to be covered:
- Introduction to Moral and Legal Concepts: This module provides an introduction to the concepts and theories used on the course. It explores the distinction between consequentialist and deontological theories of ethics, the relationship between law and morality and the nature of moral and legal rights, as well as providing an introduction to some basic legal concepts, the structure of the English legal system, and the Human Rights Act.
- Autonomy and Paternalism: Topics covered in this module include the ethical and legal issues raised in consent to treatment, confidentiality, and patient choice. Among the questions to be considered are: Is paternalism ever acceptable? Is lying to patients always wrong? To what extent should patients have control over their own medical treatment? To what extent should doctors use their discretion to keep information from the patient?
- Life and Death:This module examines a variety of difficult ethical issues relating to the creation and destruction of human life. For example, does the law currently strike the right balance between protecting the foetus and respecting women’s autonomy? Should we deny terminally ill patients the right to choose to end their own lives by lethal injection? Topics covered include: the moral and legal status of the embryo; issues raised by reproductive technologies; the definition of death; moral and legal problems regarding physician assisted suicide, euthanasia and the withdrawal of medical treatment.
- Public Health: Areas normally covered in this module include: justice and resource allocation or ‘rationing’ of medical treatment; research ethics; discrimination and health care; and issues raised by new technologies. Module 4 normally includes at least one session which looks at a topical issue in public health policy.
The dissertation gives students a chance to undertake a more intensive piece of work (between 15,000 and 20,000 words) on a topic of interest to them. While working on the dissertation students will have a supervisor to provide support and advice during the writing process. Dissertation topics are chosen by the student themselves and must relate to an issue within the broad area of health care law or ethics.
Some students start the course with a clear idea about what they want to write about - often an ethical issue from within their own practice - but others find and develop particular interests as the course progresses and they learn more about ethical theory, so don't worry if you have no clear idea what to write about at the moment. Here is a far-from-exhaustive sample list of topics that students have written on in the past:
- Rights and fertility treatment
- Research ethics committees
- Organ and tissue retention
- Euthanasia and end of life decision making
- Withdrawal of treatment
- Definitions of death
- Pregnancy, labour, and consent
- Advance directives and autonomy
- Human experimentation
- Rationing and age discrimination
- Rationing and suicide attempts
- Occupational Health
- Children and research trials
If there is a particular area you wish to write about, and would like to discuss this prior to applying for the diploma year, please contact us.
Each of the taught modules is assessed by a single piece of coursework. This comprises an essay of 4,000 words for each module. All modules must be passed in order to proceed to the dissertation.
“Staff all impressively enthusiastic – very welcoming and inclusive”
“The course was wonderful, entertaining and the fellow students were useful because of the diverse range”
“Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed the taught part of the course and am sorry that we have reached the end of it so quickly”