Law on the Beginning and End of Life

Subject LAWS70346 (2016)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2016.

Credit Points: 12.5
Level: 7 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2016.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: The total class time is between 24 and 26 hours.
Total Time Commitment:

The pre-teaching period commences four weeks before the subject commencement date. From this time, students are expected to access and review the Reading Guide that will be available from the LMS subject page and the subject materials provided by the subject coordinator, which will be available from Melbourne Law School. Refer to the Reading Guide for confirmation of which resources need to be read and what other preparation is required before the teaching period commences.

Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge:

Applicants without legal qualifications should note that subjects are offered in the discipline of law at an advanced graduate level. While every effort will be made to meet the needs of students trained in other fields, concessions will not be made in the general level of instruction or assessment. Most subjects assume the knowledge usually acquired in a degree in law (LLB, JD or equivalent). Applicants should note that admission to some subjects in the Melbourne Law Masters will be dependent upon the individual applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

The Melbourne Law Masters welcomes applications from students with disabilities. The inherent academic requirements for study in the Melbourne Law Masters are:

  • The ability to attend a minimum of 75% of classes and actively engage in the analysis and critique of complex materials and debate;
  • The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and to critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  • The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students who feel their disability will inhibit them from meeting these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact the Disability Liaison Unit:


For more information:

Phone: +61 3 8344 6190

Subject Overview:

Medical knowledge and techniques inevitably advance more quickly than ethics and law, and nowhere is this more evident than in treatments at the beginning and end of life. Prenatal and pre-implantation genetic tests can now identify an increasing number of inherited medical conditions, and women may choose to terminate their pregnancy. More tiny premature infants can be kept alive in neonatal intensive care units but many will have life-long health problems. Elderly patients are often kept alive when they would rather die because health professionals are concerned about potential liability. This subject examines what ethical principles should guide decision making in these cases, what is the law and is it right?

Principle topics will include the law on:

  • Pre-implantation and prenatal genetic diagnosis
  • Contraception and abortion
  • Compensation for medical injuries sustained during pregnancy and the birth process
  • Withholding and withdrawing treatment from critically ill neonates
  • End of life, including the law on:
    − Refusal, withholding and withdrawal of treatment and euthanasia
    − The role of the family and courts in medical decision making
    − The meaning and significance of death
    − Autopsies, the removal and use of organs and tissue after death and the coronial process
Learning Outcomes:

A student who has successfully completed this subject should:

  • Understand the legal rights of doctors, hospitals, patients and family members in relation to medical procedures at the beginning and end of life
  • Understand the process for patients and surrogate decision makers to refuse medical procedures and the limits of that process
  • Be able to advise parents, other family members, guardians and agents on the principles and values that they should consider when making medical decisions on behalf of another person
  • Be able to advise hospitals, doctors and other health professionals on steps they could take if there is a dispute about medical procedures at the beginning or end of life
  • Understand the role of the coroner after a person has died
  • Understand the law on removal and use of organs and tissue after death
  • Be able to critically evaluate the underlying theory of surrogate decision making at the beginning and end of life.

Class presentation (10%)

2,000 word presentation paper (20%)

7,000 word research paper (70%) on a topic approved by the subject coordinator

Prescribed Texts:

Core subject materials will be provided free of charge to all students. Some subjects require further texts to be purchased. Details regarding any prescribed texts will be provided prior to the commencement of the subject.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Links to further information:

This subject has a quota of 30 students. Please refer to the website for further information about the management of subject quotas and waitlists.

Related Course(s): Graduate Diploma in Health and Medical Law
Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies
Master of Health and Medical Law
Master of Laws

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