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: Law


Major advances in medical technology, increased expectations, and changing moral attitudes have combined to generate many complex ethical and legal problems in the fields related to medical ethics and palliative care. Individuals who care for patients with life-threatening illnesses can face particularly pressing and difficult moral choices. The course provides an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of these issues, and to explore the moral problems health care professionals working in these areas may face.

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. The course is taught in Liverpool by lecturers from Keele’s Centre for Professional Ethics (PEAK) and the Learning & Teaching Department of the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute. From time to time, law lecturers from Keele University may provide specialist input, and external expert speakers may also be invited to speak on the course. This is an exciting joint venture uniting academic and practical expertise.

Students come from a wide range of backgrounds within the field of health care and many diverse geographical locations. Past and current students have reported 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.

The Medical Ethics and Palliative Care 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. Each student is assigned a personal supervisor from the teaching team, whom they can contact for help or advice at any time during the course.

Teaching staff also work at the forefront of research in medical ethics, which helps to give the course a contemporary edge. In the 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 staff's work in the field of Biomedical ethics, with 80% of this work judged as being world-leading and the remaining 20% as being of internationally 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 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, 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 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 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, medical and pharmaceutical researchers, and health care educators.


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 Palliative Care as full-time students to ensure that the course is completed within one year.

Course Content

The MA in Medical Ethics and Palliative Care involves both taught sessions and a chance for students to write a dissertation on a topic of their choosing related to the course. Teaching occurs in four three-day modules that run between October 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, 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 apart from a one-day research skills workshop – you may meet your supervisor at mutually convenient times, keep in touch via email or phone, or use a combination of methods.

When taken full-time, the course is 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 Palliative Care.

The content of the modules is briefly outlined below with illustrations of the topics typically covered:

  • Module 1: Introduction to Ethics and Palliative Care - In this block, you are introduced to the main concepts and theories used in health care ethics. This is done in a number of ways that bring out their connection with issues of practical concern in palliative care. Additionally, Module 1 normally contains topics such as: the shift from curative to palliative care; the context of care (e.g. hospital, hospice, home); the relationship between ethical and clinical considerations.
  • Module 2: Autonomy, Paternalism and Advance Care Planning - Module 2 addresses issues within palliative care which relate to respect for the autonomy of patients and carers and for issues that arise over advance care planning.  Important topics normally include: truth-telling; confidentiality; decision-making for the seriously ill patient; informed consent; consent and the law; advanced directives; paternalism; challenges of non-malignant diseases; and the nature and role of hope in palliative care.
  • Module 3: Ethical Issues in Care of the Dying - 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 - 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.


The dissertation gives students a chance to undertake a more intensive piece of work (between 15,000 and 20,000 words) on an approved topic of their choice. 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 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 the vast majority of students 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:

  • "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

Each teaching block is followed by an assignment. For module one this is made up of three short written tasks, whilst for each of modules 2, 3 and 4 the assignment consists of a 4,000-word essay. All modules must be passed in order to proceed to the dissertation.

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”


Research Methods Workshop (year 2 and full-time only) Monday 10 October 2016
Module 1 Wednesday 19 - Friday 21 October 2016
Module 2 Wednesday 14 - Friday 16 December 2016
Module 3 Wednesday 1 - Friday 3 February 2017
Module 4 Wednesday 22 - Friday 24 March 2017

Tuition fees:

Current UK/EU and International fees can be here.

Funding opportunities:

School of Law Bursaries:

The School of Law is delighted to announce the launch of fee bursaries designed specifically to support students on our exciting range of PGT programmes in law and ethics. These fee bursaries are worth 50% of the cost of fees and will be awarded on the basis of academic merit and financial need to applicants who have accepted a place on a School of Law PGT programme.

If you would like to be considered for a bursary, please contact for further details. These School awards are available in addition to the support provided for postgraduate study by the University.

Keele Graduate Bursaries:
Keele graduates are eligible for a Keele Graduate Bursary. This Alumni discount is worth £1,000 and is open to all UK/EU and international students who have graduated from a first degree programme at Keele. You do not have to apply for this bursary. The £1,000 will be automatically deducted from your tuition fees. For more information, please click here.

Keele International Student Scholarship (KISS):
Keele is offering its prestigious Scholarships to full-time international Postgraduate students. The Scholarships are £3,000 towards the cost of annual tuition fees. They are awarded to students who can demonstrate excellence in at least two of the following areas: academic qualifications; English Language ability; Understanding of the course and motivation to study at Keele; Extra-curricular or work experience. For more information, please click here.

The Keele Graduate Scholarship: We will award a cash bursary of £500 to students who attain first class honours in their first undergraduate degree and come to Keele to study a taught postgraduate course to at least postgraduate diploma level. Please note that PGCE and MA Social Work are not included in this award. Payment will be made pro rata for postgraduate study.

The Keele Access Scholarship: Bursaries of up to £850 are being made available for students from backgrounds with low participation in higher education who wish to take a taught postgraduate course at Keele to at least postgraduate diploma level. The university will select candidates based on specific criteria.

Access to Learning Fund (ALF):
The Access to Learning Fund (ALF) is a fund allocated to all universities by the Government. It’s purpose is to enable us to allocate payments (which don’t have to be repaid) to students experiencing severe financial hardship. In order to be eligible to apply to the fund, you have to: be a UK student; be eligible to receive financial support from the UK government (i.e. grants, loans etc.); be in receipt of your full entitlement of statutory and discretionary student funding including the maximum student loan you can take out; show evidence of hardship. For more information, please click here.

Funding for North American students:
American and Canadian students are eligible for a 10% bursary towards the overseas rate for the course for which they are applying. In addition, students graduating from one of our 30 North American partners will be eligible for a further 15% bursary. Previous exchange students from partner universities who decide to come back to Keele for graduate study are eligible for a 50% bursary. North American students are also able to compete for the NAFKU Scholarships (North American Foundation Keele University) which provides US$4,000 towards living costs at Keele. For more information, please click here.

Questions about fees and funding?
Contact Student Finance and Funding at
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