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Study Bioethics at Otago

Matatika Koiora

Shape the future of healthcare and bioscience

Science, technology and healthcare are hugely powerful tools that bring ethical and legal challenges and opportunities.

Bioethics explores the current and future impacts of the biosciences and healthcare on people and society, animals and the environment. It determines the right way for us to respond to these as individuals, professionals and a society.

You will learn to identify and think through these complex bioethical issues from a range of perspectives, equipping you with the knowledge and skills to make a greater contribution to your community, workplace, and beyond.

With the great power of healthcare and science comes great responsibility. With Bioethics, you’ll gain the expertise to respond to the most pressing issues of our time.

Why study Bioethics?

  • Is ending life part of medicine?
  • When should personal freedom be limited in order to benefit others?
  • How should gene editing be used and regulated?
  • What do biological scientists owe to their research subjects and society?
  • Should all reproductive decisions be the choice of the individual? 

These are some of the ethical questions that arise within medicine and the life sciences. They need to be considered thoroughly and conclusions about them can change science and medicine. This is the domain of bioethics.

Bioethical reasoning is used to focus discussion; suggest new avenues for progress in healthcare, bioscience, law, and policy; and expose flawed thinking.

The ability to identify ethical issues and use reason to evaluate, discuss and argue about them is a valuable skill. If you are seeking a future in healthcare or the life sciences, these skills increase the value you can contribute to the profession.

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

Background required

Undergraduate Bioethics papers do not require specific prior learning. Students come from a range of backgrounds including law, philosophy, medicine, the life or health sciences, religious studies, social sciences, and psychology.

The transferability of many skills gained in Bioethics suits this breadth of students. It means that students may apply the skills learnt to their original field of study and enrich it further or take it in new directions.

Career opportunities

Bioethics graduates work in areas such as health governance, healthcare, science and environmental policy development, health advocacy, regulation and review of research, health, and environmental law.

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 at Otago

Bioethics is available as a minor for a BCom, BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree. It is the only one of its kind in New Zealand.

Completing five papers earns you a minor in Bioethics.

Students can look into all the main fields of Bioethics or focus on fields of particular interest. The wide choice of relevant humanities papers includes Anthropology; Bioethics; Christian Thought and History; Classical Studies; History; Indigenous Development | He Kura Matanui; Law; Media, Film and Communication; Philosophy; and Politics.

Several papers focus on mātauranga Māori in relation to research ethics, animal ethics and environmental philosophy. Other papers examine cross-cultural ethics in a global and local context.

Teaching style

The Bioethics Centre promotes a supportive and rigorous learning environment.

Papers are taught via lectures and tutorials where engagement and debate is welcome, along with independent study.

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

Bioethics research at Otago

The 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
  • Public health ethics
  • Reproductive ethics
  • Sports medicine ethics

Bioethics is multidisciplinary, so aligns well with other subject areas and interdisciplinary collaboration.

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 may be yet to start their careers, or can come from a range of professional backgrounds and include healthcare 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, BEntr, 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 Entrepreneurship (BEntr), 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.





Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
BITC201 2023 Bioethics and the Life Sciences 18 points Semester 1
BITC202 2023 Animal Ethics 18 points Semester 1
BITC210 2023 Special Topic 18 points Not offered in 2023
BITC301 2023 Bioethics 18 points Semester 1
BITC401 2023 Theories of Biomedical Ethics 30 points Semester 1
BITC403 2023 Issues in Law, Ethics and Medicine 15 points Semester 1
BITC404 2023 Ethics and Health Care 30 points Semester 2
BITC405 2023 Bioethics in Clinical Practice 30 points Semester 2
BITC406 2023 Health Research Ethics 15 points Semester 1
BITC407 2023 Advanced Health Research Ethics 15 points Semester 2
BITC412 2023 Special Topic 15 points Not offered in 2023
BITC790 2023 MHealSc Dissertation 60 points Semester 1, Semester 2, Full Year, 1st Non standard period
BITC890 2023 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