Medical Ethics and Law

Key Facts

Course Title: Medical Ethics and Law
Course type: MA, Postgraduate Diploma, Postgraduate Certificate
Mode of Study:Full Time or Part Time
Contact Details:Postgraduate Administrator
Website: Go to School homepage
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Subject Area: Ethics
Duration of study:One year full-time, two years part-time, up to five years modular.


Advances in biomedical technology, changing moral attitudes, and developments in law, combine to generate difficult ethical, legal, policy challenges for those involved in the delivery of healthcare. This programme provides an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of these issues and to explore the moral problems faced by healthcare professionals and those involve in healthcare management and policy. It also aims to provide a foundation for pursuing further study at doctoral level for those interested in doing so.

Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in Medical Ethics and Law, including (but not limited to) doctors, nurses, health care managers, intercalating medical students, radiographers, chaplains, charity and voluntary workers, social workers, hospice directors, medical and pharmaceutical researchers, dentists, veterinary practitioners and health care educators. While the programme is primarily aimed at healthcare professionals, it is open to anyone who is suitably qualified and who can demonstrate sufficient academic aptitude. The programme has increasingly attracted recent graduates who wish either to build on previous study in law or ethics or to develop their studies in a new direction.

The MA in Medical Ethics and Law is run by the Centre for Professional Ethics and School of Law at Keele University. It is one of England’s longest established master’s programmes in this subject area, having first been presented in 1987.

The programme is available part-time, full-time, by modular study, and by intercalation within a medical degree. It is taught in short, intensive blocks to make it accessible to those in full-time employment and from across the country and beyond.

Teaching staff also work at the forefront of research in medical ethics, which helps to give the course a contemporary edge. In the most recent 2014 REF, staff from Keele's Healthcare Law and Bioethics cluster who teach on the MA were part of Keele's Philosophy submission, which was ranked first in the country for its Impact work. The impact submission was based on work in the field of Biomedical ethics, with 80% of this work judged as being world-leading and the remaining 20% as being internationally excellent.

Aims of the Course

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 a 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 and legal claims.  It will also help you to communicate ethical and legal arguments to others in a clearer way.  

Although ethical issues are rarely out of the headlines, 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!

Entry Requirements

The MA in Medical Ethics and Law is open to graduates with a first or second class honours degree (or foreign equivalent) in a relevant subject, or appropriate professional qualifications and/or experience.

Applicants for whom English is not a first language must provide evidence of a qualification in English language, unless they hold a previous degree that was taught and examined in English. The minimum score for entry to the MA is academic IELTS 6.5 (with no subtest below 5.5) or equivalent.

Intercalating medical students can opt to take a year out of their undergraduate studies in order to pursue a relevant subject area in greater depth, before returning to complete the medical course. To intercalate at MA level, students must have completed the fourth year of a medical degree. 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.

Course Content

The MA in Medical Ethics and Law consists of four 30-credit taught modules and a 60-credit dissertation.

When taken part-time the four taught modules are completed in the first year, with the dissertation being completed in the second year. The part-time mode of study is designed to meet the needs of healthcare practitioners and others who wish to combine study for the MA with full-time employment. The part time programme requires only 12 days attendance in year 1 and one day (a Research Methods study day in October) in year 2. Many second year students find it useful to come to Keele more frequently, to meet their supervisors, attend talks by visiting speakers, and use other university facilities. Others, especially those who live some distance away, prefer to keep in touch via email or phone, or use a combination of methods.

The full-time MA is completed in one year. Students begin work on the dissertation alongside the taught modules and submit it at the start of September.

Students taking the MA by modular study may take one or more taught modules per year for a period of up to four years, followed by the dissertation in the subsequent year. (Maximum five years in total.) The Semester 1 modules must normally be completed before the Semester 2 modules.

Some students may not want to do the entire MA Programme. These students may exit the programme after completing the taught modules. Successful completion of all four taught modules (120 credits) leads to the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Ethics and Law; while successful completion any two taught modules (60 credits) leads to the award of a Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Ethics and Law.

Moral Theory and Medical Ethics (30 credits)

This module equips students with a knowledge of key ethical theories, frameworks and prinicples that inform academic debates in medical and healthcare ethics, and enables them to use these tools to analyse practical moral problems in medicine and healthcare. It also provides students with a practical understanding of the norms and conventions of academic argument and writing in applied ethics.

Topics covered typically include:

  • consequentialism
  • deontology
  • virtue ethics
  • principlism
  • autonomy and paternalism
  • the ethical foundations of consent
  • liberty and toleration
  • evaluating and constructing ethical arguments
  • introduction to the library and electronic resources
  • how to write essays in ethics

Principles of Medical Law (30 credits)

This module aims to equips students with a knowledge of key principles, cases and statutes in medical law. it enables them to critique aspects of medical law and to apply their knowledge of the law to practices in medicine and healthcare, and provides them with a practical understanding of the norms and conventions of academic argument and writing in medical law.

Topics covered typically include:

  • introduction to law
  • use of cases and statutes 
  • healthcare law and the concept of health
  • regulation and self-regulation in the healthcare system
  • law and consent
  • capacity
  • professional negligence
  • mental health law
  • confidentiality and the law
  • the relationship between law and morality
  • writing law essays
  • legal arguments and referencing

Life, Death and the Human Body (30 credits)

This module enables students to extend their knowledge of ethical and legal concepts, principles and theories, especially those relating to the moral and legal status of persons and human bodies and the value and boundaries of human life, and to apply such principles to practical issues in healthcare and medical practice including intervention at the beginning and end of life and modification of the human body.

Topics covered typically include:

  • abortion: ethical and legal issues
  • regulating reproduction
  • selective reproduction and saviour siblings
  • euthanasia: ethical issues
  • death, dying and the law
  • advance directives
  • post mortem organ transplant
  • treatment of intersex children
  • transgender, medicine and the law
  • assignment guidance and feedback

Healthcare, Justice and Society (30 credits)

This module enables students to apply and extend their knowledge of ethical and legal concepts, principles and theories in the context of practical issues in healthcare affecting the relations between healthcare practitioners, patients and wider society, and to acquire knowledge and critical understanding of a range of contemporary ethical and legal controversies surrounding a range of such issues.

Topics covered typically include:

  • biomedical research ethics and law
  • ethical issues in bio-banking
  • ethical issues in stem cell policy
  • criminal regulation of medicine
  • conscientious objection in healthcare
  • healthcare and international law
  • ethics and law of healthcare resource allocation.

The module also includes guidance for part-time students on progression to the dissertation stage.

Dissertation (60 credits)

The dissertation provides an opportunity for students to use the knowledge and skills acquired during their programme of study to undertake a more extended piece of work on a topic of their choice. The module consists of independent supervised study leading to the production of a 15,000 to 20,000-word dissertation.

The dissertation offers students an opportunity to develop basic research skills to the level at which a competent piece of work at Masters level can be undertaken. A student achieving pass level in the dissertation should be equipped for independent research at a higher level. Dissertation topics are chosen by the students themselves and must relate to an issue within the broad area of health care law or ethics. No primary empirical research is undertaken for this module.

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. Recent dissertation topics have included:

  • 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
  • Surrogacy
  • Veterinary ethics

If there is a particular area you wish to write about and would like to discuss this prior to applying for the course, please contact us.





Teaching and Assessment

Teaching for the four taught modules is delivered in short intense blocks, enabling those in full-time employment to do the course part-time and to fit it around the demands of their work wherever they are based. Each student is assigned a personal supervisor from the outset, whom they can contact for help or advice at any time during the course.

We regard high levels of student participation in discussion as particularly important for teaching and learning in this area, and employ teaching techniques which encourage this wherever possible. Students come from a wide range of backgrounds and report that meeting and exchanging ideas with others who work in different fields and in different parts of the country is one of the major benefits of the course.

From time to time, experts from outside Keele are invited to speak on the course; this provides an insight into academic work in healthcare ethics and law taking place in other institutions and professional perspectives. In addition, Keele's Centre for Law, Ethics and Society hosts a wide range of seminars, workshops and lectures, which students are welcome to attend.

Each of the four taught modules is assessed through a 5,000-word essay. The essay question is chosen from a list reflecting the main themes of the module, enabling students to focus on the issues that are most interesting to them or relevant to their work. For each essay, students submit a plan (required for modules 1 and 2; optional for modules 3 and 4), on which feedback is provided. In addition, students receive written feedback on each of their essays, aimed at helping them to improve their performance as they progress through the programme, and have the opportunity to discuss the feedback with their supervisor.

For the dissertation module, students are allocated a supervisor to provide support and advice during the writing process, and attend a one-day Research Methods Workshop in Semester 1.

Additional Costs

Students not living within daily travelling distance of Keele will need to arrange accommodation during the teaching blocks.

Although recommended readings are available in the library or on-line, students may wish to purchase some books for themselves.

We do not anticipate any other additional costs for this postgraduate programme.

I’ve always been interested in the ethical and legal side of healthcare and this course seemed to offer everything I wanted, so I could study the subject in more depth. We covered the ethics and law of reproduction, death and dying, conscientious objection, gender issues in healthcare and more! The course opened my mind to so many other issues in healthcare and focused it on the importance of ethical healthcare which puts people first. The course was flexible to fit in with work and the quality of the teaching staff was superb." (Beverley Bostock, MA in Medical Ethics and Law, 2015-17)

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the course and found it a very valuable experience which I hope will make me a better doctor." (Neonatal Registrar, Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Ethics and Law, 2014-15)

"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"

"I have had a fantastic experience and have really enjoyed the teaching and interaction"

"The group has brought together different professions and views which have been expressed freely"

"I'm very sad that the taught blocks have finished - thank you for all your hard work and interest"

"I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the group was lovely and the lecturers were interesting and engaging"

"A thoroughly enjoyable course that I would recommend to any of my colleagues, I am sad that all the taught modules have come to an end, a massive credit to all the tutors involved in delivering the course it has met my expectations and more"

"This course has challenged me and given me new frameworks to develop my ideas, I have challenged my own beliefs and have been forced to establish solid arguments for my gut instincts"

"I have really developed a new approach towards issues and problems I face in my work"

"Very highly recommended course"

"A fantastic element was meeting the other students and professionals in my course, meeting them and their ideas was very stimulating"

Registration and Induction Day

Tuesday 2nd October 2018

Module 1 - Moral Theory and Medical Ethics

Wednesday 3rd - Friday 5th October 2018

Research Methods Workshop (year 2 and full-time only)

Wednesday 10th October 2018

Module 2 - Principles of Medical Law

Wednesday 28th -Friday 30th November 2018

Module 3 - Life, Death and the Human Body

Wednesday 23rd - Friday 25th January 2019

Module 4 - Healthcare, Justice and Society

Wednesday 20th - Friday 22nd March 2019