Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Study Bioethics at Otago

Bioethics is a broad subject, but generally consists of the ethical evaluation of issues arising from healthcare and the life sciences.

It is inevitable that bioethical issues will continue to arise, so it’s important to know how to reason clearly about them. Bioethical reasoning is used to focus discussion, suggest new avenues for progress in healthcare, bioscience, law, and policy, and to expose flawed thinking.

Science and healthcare are hugely powerful tools. But with great power comes great responsibility. If you enjoy thinking about what science and healthcare can do, and also what they ought to do, then bioethics is for you.

Why study Bioethics?

It is almost inevitable that bioethical issues will affect our lives. Sometimes we may be unaware that they do.

When deciding to have a child, should the potential parent(s) be able to choose which child they would like to bring into the world? Should they be required to choose the child that is likely to have the best life?

Research on animals is likely to have occurred to develop medical treatments and test their safety. Is it reasonable to use animals in this way? Is it wrong to use animals to test the safety of recreational drugs?

Many things we can choose to do are open to ethical evaluation. Bioethics is the examination of these choices to determine what follows from them, and what the right choice might be.

The ability to identify ethical issues and use reason to evaluate, discuss, and argue about them is a valuable skill. In personal and professional life this skill helps with thinking through choices and conduct. It is also useful for those seeking a future in healthcare and the life sciences to assist with playing an active and responsible role in increasing the benefits they can deliver.

Background required

Undergraduate bioethics papers do not require specific prior learning and papers can be included to enrich any degree at 200- and 300-level. Undergraduate bioethics papers are not prerequisites for postgraduate study in bioethics. However, undergraduate papers are helpful for postgraduate study.

Career opportunities

Bioethics students come from a range of backgrounds, including law, philosophy, medicine, the life or health sciences, religious studies, social sciences, and psychology. Given this breadth of experience, the transferability of many skills gained in bioethics is advantageous. It means that students may apply their skills to their original field of study and enrich it further or take it in new directions.

There are many jobs and careers to which bioethics graduates are particularly suited.

These include academic research in bioethics, teaching at all levels, and bioethics-related work in science, healthcare, and law. Bioethics graduates also work in areas such as health governance, healthcare, science and environmental policy development, health advocacy, regulation, and review of research, health, and environmental law.

The growing awareness that good practice in medicine and bioscience is informed by an understanding of its ethical implications means that studying bioethics adds significant value to any qualification. Bioethics graduates may use their knowledge of bioethics as a way to distinguish themselves among graduates in the sciences, medicine, and other disciplines.

Bioethics at Otago

Bioethics is available at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Students can take papers at 200- or 300-level to enhance their degree, or undertake postgraduate study.

Health Sciences professional students are taught medical ethics by staff at the Bioethics Centre, and further courses are available for these students.

The Bioethics Centre hosts a biennial bioethics conference, weekly seminars during the semester featuring local, national, and international speakers, and a student forum for postgraduate students.

Teaching style

The Bioethics Centre promotes a supportive and rigorous learning environment.

Papers at undergraduate level are taught via lectures and tutorials, using an interactive approach where engagement and debate is welcome. Web-based learning resources are also utilised for local and distance students. Further independent study is required.

At postgraduate level, teaching is delivered using web-based video conferencing. All papers are internally assessed.

Bioethics research at Otago

The wide range of research at the Bioethics Centre aims to examine the conventional and novel moral dilemmas arising from medical research, clinical settings, and advances brought about by life sciences and biotechnologies.

Members of staff undertake research in a wide range of fields including:

  • Animal ethics
  • Clinical bioethics
  • Cross-cultural bioethics
  • Environmental ethics
  • Genetics and ethics
  • Neuroethics
  • Paediatric ethics
  • Psychiatric / mental health ethics
  • Reproductive ethics
  • Sports medicine ethics

Commonly this research is multidisciplinary, so our staff frequently collaborate with those from other academic areas.

Postgraduate opportunities

There are many postgraduate degrees and diplomas offered, including a Certificate of Proficiency, Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas, the Master of Health Sciences (endorsed in Bioethics), the Master of Bioethics and Health Law (MBHL), and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Bioethics.

Most masters’ students complete a dissertation or thesis, and coursework.

Postgraduate students come from a range of backgrounds and include health care professionals, law graduates, and those with policy roles.


Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages:

Programme requirements

Postgraduate Diploma in Health Sciences (PGDipHealSc) endorsed in Bioethics


A candidate, with the approval of the Board of Graduate Studies in Health Sciences, may substitute alternative papers to the value of 30 points.

The Postgraduate Diploma in Health Sciences (PGDipHealSc) endorsed in Bioethics is available through Distance Learning.

Master of Health Sciences (MHealSc) endorsed in Bioethics

  • BITC 401 Theories of Biomedical Ethics
  • Papers to the value of 60 points chosen from:
  • Further approved paper(s) to the value of 30 points
  • A thesis (120 points)
  • Note: A candidate, with the approval of the Bioethics Board of Studies, may substitute alternative papers to the value of 30 points.

Minor subject requirements

Bioethics as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

Level Papers Points

One of:
PHIL 103  Ethical Issues
PHIL 105  Critical Thinking
LAWS 102  Introduction to Law and New Technologies



BITC 201 Bioethics and the Life Sciences
BITC 202 Animal Ethics
PHIL 235 Environmental Philosophy



BITC 301 Bioethics

A student may substitute one of the required papers above 100-level with a paper at the same level as the substituted paper or above from the following list: ANTH 322, ANTH 323, CLAS 340, CHTH 323, HIST 229, INDV 301, MFCO 222, PHIL 338, POLS 207.





Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a selection of on-campus papers will be made available via distance and online learning for eligible students.
Find out which papers are available and how to apply on our COVID-19 website

Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
BITC201 2022 Bioethics and the Life Sciences 18 points Semester 1
BITC202 2022 Animal Ethics 18 points Semester 1
BITC210 2022 Special Topic 18 points Not offered in 2022
BITC301 2022 Bioethics 18 points Semester 1
BITC401 2022 Theories of Biomedical Ethics 30 points Semester 1
BITC403 2022 Issues in Law, Ethics and Medicine 15 points Semester 1
BITC404 2022 Ethics and Health Care 30 points Semester 2
BITC405 2022 Bioethics in Clinical Practice 30 points Semester 2
BITC406 2022 Health Research Ethics 15 points Semester 1
BITC407 2022 Advanced Health Research Ethics 15 points Semester 2
BITC412 2022 Special Topic 15 points Not offered in 2022
BITC790 2022 MHealSc Dissertation 60 points Semester 1, Semester 2, Full Year, 1st Non standard period
BITC890 2022 MBHL Dissertation 60 points Semester 1, Semester 2, Full Year, 1st Non standard period, 2nd Non standard period

Key information for future students

Contact us

Bioethics Centre
Otago Medical School