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Advances in medical technology, increased expectations, and changing moral attitudes combine to generate complex ethical and legal problems for those involved in the delivery of healthcare. Practitioners who treat and care for patients with life-limiting illnesses can face particularly pressing and difficult moral choices. This programme provides an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of these issues and to explore the moral problems faced people involved in all aspects of end of life care. It also provides a foundation for pursuing further study at doctoral level for those interested in doing so.


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, researchers, and health care educators. While the programme is primarily aimed at healthcare professionals, it is open to anyone who is suitably qualified and who can demonstrate sufficient academic aptitude.

The programme is taught by staff from the Centre for Professional Ethics, the School of Law, as well as specialists in palliative and end-of-life care from the School of Nursing and Midwifery. The teaching staff have many years experience of teaching postgraduate courses to healthcare practitioners and those interested in ethical and legal issues in healthcare. Each student is assigned a personal tutor 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 most 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 work in the field of Biomedical ethics, with 80% of this work judged as being world-leading and the remaining 20% as being internationally excellent.


The MA in Medical Ethics and Palliative Care consists of four 30-credit taught modules and a 60-credit dissertation.

When taken part-time the four taught modules are completed in the first year, with the dissertation being completed in the second year. The part-time mode of study is designed to meet the needs of healthcare practitioners and others who wish to combine study for the MA with full-time employment. The part time programme requires only 12 days attendance in year 1 and one day (a Research Methods study day in October) in year 2. Many second year students find it useful to come to Keele more frequently, to meet their supervisors, attend talks by visiting speakers, and use other university facilities.

Students taking the MA by modular study may take one or more taught modules per year for a period of up to four years, followed by the dissertation in the subsequent year. (Maximum five years in total.) Module 1 must normally be completed before modules 3 and 4.

Some students may not want to do the entire MA Programme. These students may exit the programme after completing the taught modules. Successful completion of all four taught modules (120 credits) leads to the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Ethics and Law; while successful completion any two taught modules (60 credits) leads to the award of a Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Ethics and Law.


Topics covered typically include:

  • consequentialism
  • deontology
  • virtue ethics
  • principlism
  • autonomy and paternalism
  • the ethical foundations of consent
  • liberty and toleration
  • evaluating and constructing ethical arguments
  • introduction to the library and electronic resources
  • how to write essays in ethics


Topics covered typically include:

  • introduction to law
  • use of cases and statutes 
  • healthcare law and the concept of health
  • regulation and self-regulation in the healthcare system
  • law and consent
  • capacity
  • professional negligence
  • mental health law
  • confidentiality and the law
  • the relationship between law and morality
  • writing law essays
  • legal arguments and referencing


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.


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 provides an opportunity for students to use the knowledge and skills acquired during their programme of study to undertake a more extended piece of work on a topic of their choice. The module consists of independent supervised study leading to the production of a 15,000 to 20,000-word dissertation.

The dissertation offers students an opportunity to develop basic research skills to the level at which a competent piece of work at Masters level can be undertaken. A student achieving pass level in the dissertation should be equipped for independent research at a higher level. Dissertation topics are chosen by the students themselves and must relate to an issue within the broad area of health care law or ethics. No primary empirical research is undertaken for this module.

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.

Visit the Medical Ethics and Palliative Care MA/PGDip page on the Keele University website for more details!




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