Ethics and Law in Public Health - PHCM9331

Faculty: Faculty of Medicine

School: School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Course Outline: See Course Outline

Campus: Sydney

Career: Postgraduate

Units of Credit: 6

EFTSL: 0.12500 (more info)

Indicative Contact Hours per Week: 2

Enrolment Requirements:

This course is available to SPHCM and Forensic Mental Health postgraduate students. Other students will need to provide approval from their program authority and the approval of the course convenor to

CSS Contribution Charge: 3 (more info)

Tuition Fee: See Tuition Fee Schedule

Further Information: See Class Timetable

View course information for previous years.


The aim of this course is to consider ethics and law in public health and in the management of health care institutions. The course includes an introduction to ethics and explores the ethical challenges of balancing the interests of individuals and society within a healthcare context. Differences between the strong community focus of public health ethics and the more individual focus of clinical ethics are also studied. An introductory briefing on health law is provided together with discussions on common issues of concern relating to public health and health management law. Students are given opportunities to apply their learning to particular issues of interest in public health and health care management.

The course is offered in both external and on campus modes, and students must follow the tutorial attendance requirements set out for their chosen course. The external mode: involves weekly online activities and students’ direct involvement in leading and moderating online discussions. Participation in online tutorials is compulsory. The on-campus mode (N.B. Offered subject to enrolment numbers): involves a 2-hour weekly compulsory tutorial class held at the Kensington campus over eleven weeks, with active participation to class discussion.

The course aims to deliver knowledge and skills in identifying ethical and legal issues in health care policy development by reference to some recurring tensions: balancing individual rights with the goal of achieving healthy populations; the challenges of health care rationing; and addressing the needs of particular population groups. We will bring these issues to life through a series of case studies, including tobacco control policy, the “obesity epidemic”, pandemic influenza, involuntary treatment for mental illness, vaccination policy and cancer screening. These case studies form the basis of online and class discussions, and provide a practical anchor for developing students' understanding of the relevant ethical and legal issues.

Perhaps more than any other discipline, discussion and collaboration is the key to ethical decision making. Communication with stakeholder groups and drawing on expertise across a range of disciplines including economics, law, sociology, the various health care professions, research fields including epidemiology, infection control and so on, are central to creating policy and designing appropriate and effective laws. The tutorial class and online discussions are central to this course as students will learn from each other, drawing on the diverse experiences and interests in the student group, as well as from the course materials.

Ethics & Law in Public Health satisfies the compulsory requirement for an ethics and law component in tertiary studies, for accreditation by the Royal Australasian College of Healthcare Administrators.

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