Medical Ethics and Palliative Care

Key Facts

Course Title: Medical Ethics and Palliative Care
Course type: MA, Postgraduate Diploma
Mode of Study:Full Time or Part Time
Contact Details:Centre Administrator
Website: Go to School homepage
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Subject Area: Ethics


Advances in medical technology, increased expectations, and changing moral attitudes combine to generate complex ethical and legal problems for those involved in the delivery of healthcare. Practitioners who treat and care for patients with life-limiting illnesses can face particularly pressing and difficult moral choices. This programme provides an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of these issues and to explore the moral problems faced people involved in all aspects of end of life care. It also provides 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 palliative care, including (but not limited to) doctors, nurses, health care managers, intercalating medical students, radiographers, chaplains, charity and voluntary workers, social workers, hospice directors, researchers, 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 is taught by staff from the Centre for Professional Ethics, the School of Law, as well as specialists in palliative and end-of-life care from the School of Nursing and Midwifery. The teaching staff have many years experience of teaching postgraduate courses to healthcare practitioners and those interested in ethical and legal issues in healthcare. We are aware of the special problems and challenges that may face mature students and those combining study with full-time work, and we do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning. Each student is assigned a personal tutor whom they can contact for help or advice at any time during the course.

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 more accessible to those in full-time employment and those travelling to Keele 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 nternationally excellent.

Aims of the Course

This course aims to deepen students’ understanding of health care ethics, especially in areas relevant to palliative care, and to enhance their ability to think systematically about the moral issues that palliative 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 Palliative Care 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 Palliative Care 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.) Module 1 must normally be completed before modules 3 and 4.

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.

Module 1: 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

Module 2: 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

Module 3: Ethical Issues in Care of the Dying (30 credits)

This module focuses on end-of-life issues and care for the dying.  It includes topics on the significance of death; the sanctity and value of life; the idea of 'quality of life'; withdrawing and withholding life-prolonging treatment; and ethical and legal issues in euthanasia.  The practical aspects of care for the dying are also addressed through a focus on the Liverpool Care Pathway.

Module 4: Policy, Resource and Research Ethics in Palliative Care (30 credits)

The content of this module varies from year to year to reflect current issues of particular concern in the field. However, central to controversies in palliative care and issues of policy, resource allocation and research, which from the central core of the module.  In recent years, it has included seminars on special issues relating to the care of children; screening programmes; the role of religious belief in ethical debate; and differing conceptions of palliative care.

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.

Dissertation topics are chosen by the student themselves and fall within the broad area of the ethics of cancer and palliative care. 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:

  • "Do Not Resuscitate" orders;
  • Patient autonomy and end-of-life decisions;
  • Withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment;
  • Futility and ethical issues;
  • Truth telling and deception
  • Terminal sedation;
  • Euthanasia / assisting in bringing about death;
  • Concepts of a good death;
  • The doctrine of double effect;
  • The acts/omissions doctrine;
  • Screening programmes;
  • Resource allocation and palliative care;
  • Ethical issues in considering faith and spirituality

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 tutor 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 may be 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 may submit a plan 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 personal tutor.

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

Apart from additional costs for text books, inter-library loans and potential overdue library fines we do not anticipate any additional costs for this post graduate programme.

"I feel the support I had from all of you and especially my supervisor in the second year really helped me through. I really enjoyed the course, I have climbed mountains in the past two years. I learnt a lot about myself and acquired so many new skills for the future. A big thank you to you all."
Gemma Lowe, Specialist Screening Practitioner (Graduated MA in Medical Ethics and Palliative Care 2014)

 “I felt the course was constructed well, the Keele staff were very knowledgeable and supportive.  Marie Curie was an excellent centre to hold the teaching and I have thoroughly enjoyed the past year of the course”

 “Excellent combination of clinical and academic input”

 “Opportunity to develop new skills”

 “Learning to think differently about everything”


Registration and Induction Day (TBC)

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 - Ethical Issues in Care of the Dying

Wednesday 30th January - Friday 1st February 2019

Module 4 - Policy, Resource & Research Ethics in Palliative Care

Wednesday 27th - Friday 29th March 2019