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BITC403 Issues in Law, Ethics and Medicine

Current issues in bioethics and medical law with reference to theories about actual and desirable relationship of law, morals, and the biomedical sciences.

This paper examines current issues in bioethics and medical law as they arise from some key cases and judgements in recent years. The issues will be considered with reference to theories about the actual and desirable relationship of law and ethics. Those theoretical positions will be outlined, critiqued and discussed at the outset of the paper, particularly as they concern:

  • The nature of bioethics as a discipline
  • The nature of health law and its distinction from other areas of law
  • The relation between health law, bioethics and society
  • The idea of human rights
  • The potential conflict between professional duties and patient choices
  • Conscientious objection to the law by health professionals

Paper title Issues in Law, Ethics and Medicine
Paper code BITC403
Subject Bioethics
EFTS 0.125
Points 15 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,081.38
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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Pre or Corequisite
(BITC 401 or BITX 401) and (LAWS 447 or LAWS 547 or LAWS 448 or LAWS 548)
BITX 403
Limited to
DipGrad, GDipBHL, MBHL, MHealSc, PGDipHealSc
(i) Students who have not passed the normal prerequisites or corequisites may be admitted with approval from the Director of the Bioethics Centre. (ii) There is one residential weekend held in Dunedin. (iii) Seminars and lectures for BITC403 are AV linked. However the residential weekend is not. There is an expectation that all students attend the residential weekend.

 Professor John McMillan,

Teaching staff

Professor John McMillan

Paper Structure
This is a 15-point paper. It is expected to require between 12-20 hours per week on reading and course-associated work over the first semester.

  • Formative assignment, 500 words (5%)
  • First essay, 1,500 words (35%)
  • Second essay, 3,000 words (60%)
Teaching Arrangements

The Distance Learning offering of this paper is a combination of remote and in-person teaching.

There is one residential weekend held in Dunedin. Students are strongly advised to attend the residential weekend in person, though students may contact the paper convenor for an exemption if they are unable to attend in person.

The seminars and lectures for BITC403 are AV-linked.


Beauchamp, T. Childress, J. Principles of biomedical ethics. OUP 6th edition, 2009

Principles of Health Care Ethics Second Edition (eds Ashcroft, Dawson, Draper and McMillan). John Wiley and Sons

Paterson, Manning, Skegg and Dawson. Medical Law in New Zealand. Booker Publishers (2006)

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Scholarship, Critical thinking, Ethics.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

We aim to examine a range of key concepts and arguments used in the intersection between ethical and legal debate. This will be done in part by close attention to key judicial decisions, in New Zealand and elsewhere, so that students would be expected to develop the following skills:

  • The ability to read a judicial decision and identify the ethical issues.
  • A knowledge of the arguments needed to critique the decision.
  • An understanding of ethical debate and its relevance to the rationale of a given decision.

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Thursday 16:00-17:50 9-10, 13, 16-17, 19


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Friday 13:00-17:50 18
B1 Saturday 09:00-17:50 18