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Edinburgh’s LLM in Medical Law and Ethics: Reflections

In honour of the Mason Institute’s 10th anniversary, we decided it would be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our research-led teaching in health, medical law and ethics during this period.

Edinburgh Law School has been a longstanding and innovative leader in the delivery of an on campus Masters in Medical Law and Ethics, which has led to it being consistently highly ranked in the Top 10 LLMs in Health/Medical Law in the UK and internationally.

This is in addition to publishing one of the UK’s leading textbooks in the area, Mason and McCall Smith’s Law and Medical Ethics. The textbook is now in its 12th edition and we recently celebrated 40 years since it was first published. You can see and hear all about the rich history of the textbook and its current edition in our commemorative video and podcast.

We asked some recent graduates from our on campus LLM in Medical Law and Ethics to offer their reflections on the degree programme. We also asked Dr Edward Dove, the Programme Director between 2018 and 2022, for his own reflections on his role and the impact on students who have taken the degree in recent years.

Dr Edward Dove – Programme Director, LLM in Medical Law and Ethics (2018-2022)

It was with great pride and joy that I served as Programme Director of the on-campus Medical Law and Ethics LLM programme at Edinburgh Law School between 2018 and 2022. Prior to my taking over the reins, the LLM programme was not ‘long in the tooth’, having been established in the 2014-15 academic year. In that inaugural year, the programme welcomed a cosy number of LLM students—only four! Needless to say, however, the inaugural LLM Programme Director, Professor Graeme Laurie, along with the entire teaching staff in the subject area, ensured those four students—and the LLM students who arrived in the following academic years—received a world-leading education in medical law and ethics that would enable them to excel in a variety of careers, from legal practice to civil service to policy/think tank research to the practice of medicine and other areas of health. Over the years, and upon taking over the directorship role from Professor Laurie in 2018, I sought to achieve two main objectives: (1) continue to increase our enrolment on the programme; and (2) demonstrate that we are a globally leading Masters’ programme in this area.

In relation to the second objective, I am delighted that in every year since 2019, the LLM Guide, which is a leading guide for postgraduate applicants, has ranked our LLM programme in Medical Law and Ethics to be in the Top 10 of its kind around the world. This success is demonstrated by increasing application numbers every year since the programme was created. Moreover, and in relation to the first objective, our enrolment numbers on the programme nearly trebled, from 10 students in 2018-19 to 27 students in 2020-21, our largest ever cohort. I have been equally delighted that in my time as Programme Director, we expanded our postgraduate course offerings from four to seven courses, and that our student cohort is increasingly diverse in terms of attracting international, as well as national students. This is in addition to our LLM students coming from an increasingly wide range of non-law backgrounds, including the humanities and social and medical sciences.

Inevitably, given the strength and popularity of our LLM programme, difficult admissions decisions must be made every year and we cannot, unfortunately, offer placements to every applicant who seeks to join us in Edinburgh. In turn, this leads to difficult decisions in balancing the desire for class sizes small enough to ensure effective seminar-style teaching can be delivered with the desire to offer as many places as feasible to brilliant students who demonstrate a passion for studying medical law and ethics at our University. For those who are fortunate enough to merit a spot each September, my colleagues and I eagerly await the start of the academic year, when we meet new faces and embark again in mutual learning. And it must be said, we really do learn from our students every year and in every class.

I am thrilled that the LLM programme is now led by my colleague, Dr Catriona McMillan, who has ably steered the programme since the 2022-23 academic year. Going forward, we will continue to assess the ways in which we can accommodate as many qualified applicants from around the world as possible and ensure that our research-led teaching is topical and aligned with student interest. We see this, for example, with the recent creation of a course dedicated to mental health law and more focused teaching on the legal and ethical implications of health and technology, including the increasing integration of artificial intelligence in healthcare. Going forward, we also will continue to ensure that the Mason Institute, through its annual essay competition and Great Medico-Legal Debate, as well as its regular seminars, lectures, and funded research projects, enables our students to contribute to, and engage with, cutting-edge topics so that they can supplement the learning they receive in the classroom and build collaborations with leading medical law and ethics scholars from around the world.

It is my hope that undergraduate students, in whatever field they study and wherever they are situated in the world, look upon our Medical Law and Ethics LLM programme with heightened interest and give considered thought to applying. Our programme, our Law School, and our beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Edinburgh would be pleased to welcome all.

Chioma Dibia – LLM in Medical Law and Ethics, 2022 

When I arrived in Edinburgh for my LLM in Medical Law and Ethics, I was excited at the opportunity to explore my interest in the legal and ethical issues arising in mental health and other healthcare contexts in one of the leading universities in the world. After all, I had applied to the University of Edinburgh for this very reason: to experience what it would be like to study in one of the best Universities in the world. However, shortly after I commenced my LLM programme, I realised that there was more to the University of Edinburgh than its world-class teaching or research.

In particular, I was struck by how supportive the academic community was and by the numerous opportunities available for students in the medical law and ethics subject area to enrich their learning experience by engaging in the activities organised by the Mason Institute (MI). For instance, I attended MI lunchtime seminars where I gained further insight into legal and ethical issues arising in mental health and other healthcare contexts by listening to experts in this area. I also had the opportunity to work as a research assistant on a Research and Impact Facilitation Fund Project on anti-racism and anti-colonialism. This experience broadened my understanding of racism in health and bioethics and has stimulated my current research interest in how racism affects the operation of mental health legislation on Black people.

Having experienced the extent of support and opportunities available to emerging researchers and students within the University as an LLM student, I was keen to undertake my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. It was particularly important to me to conduct my research in such an academic community which is not only vibrant but is also supportive of its members. In these first years of my PhD, I felt the impact of being a part of such a community and the MI continues to be a significant part of the support available to me as a part of the research community at the University of Edinburgh. The writing workshops, social events and other activities organised by the MI PhD Research Group have also enabled me to forge relationships with other researchers in my subject area. This support network has been invaluable towards helping me adjust to the demands of postgraduate research life.

As I continue my journey as a postgraduate researcher in Edinburgh, it is important to me to continue to be involved with the MI because of the support and opportunities that it provides to students who, like me, are interested in the interface between law, medicine and ethics. I believe that by actively participating in the MI, I can learn from and collaborate with students and experts who share similar research interests on projects which will have international reach and make a positive impact on the lives of Black people with mental disorders.

Leyla Noury – LLM in Medical Law and Ethics, 2022

Before the Covid-19 pandemic started, I remember sitting in handovers as a medical student and I was so disillusioned by how the discourse around healthcare provision was centred around resource allocation. It made me question how different population groups are perceived and treated differently when they seek certain services. I realised that I wasn’t aware of other factors driving these perceptions, and this lack of awareness was painfully heightened by my experience working as a Healthcare Assistant at my local hospital during the pandemic. So I chose to study this degree in order to learn more about different legal, ethical and regulatory factors influencing the provision of healthcare.

I picked Edinburgh because of the richness of their curriculum. They provided compulsory and optional modules in many relevant areas of medical law and ethics which overall gave me a rounded understanding of issues in the field. They also offered an optional module in any other area of law, and I picked theoretical criminology because I wanted to understand the political and social aspects of crime in my hometown, London.

I really enjoyed the course. Health is a very personal topic. It involves life, death, quality of living, autonomy, lifestyles and so on. All my classmates had a personal stake in the field which was evident in passionate and very vocal class discussions. Moreover, it was clear from the way the course organisers taught the material—from tactfully guiding discussions and including all views on controversial topics, all the way down to taking care in making the reading list and avoiding citation bias—that they were committed to challenging the status quo in national but also global healthcare and medicine.

I feel this course gave me my voice back. It helped me understand and articulate my observations and experiences within healthcare. I no longer feel apprehensive about challenging potentially unethical and unsafe practices in medicine. It empowered me to think about how I am in charge of my own health, and how I could help empower others over their own health too.

I was also given the opportunity to assist in the production of a podcast series for the Mason Institute called “Mason Institute Investigates”. This was a rewarding experience as I got to interview academics about their research interests and papers they had recently published. I also recently started working as a claims assistant in NHS Resolution, which I hope will be a fun experience and an opportunity to experience a different aspect of healthcare.

The city of Edinburgh is hospitable and safe. I settled in very quickly, and established lots of friendships among my classmates and housemates. Edinburgh is quite a small city, and many places are within walking distance. On top of that, there were many beautiful sights in Edinburgh to enjoy as you walk around the city.

Have a look through the course website and see what modules Edinburgh offers. If you have any questions, you can contact the postgraduate law office and they will be more than happy to assist you.

Ruby Reed-Berendt – LLM in Medical Law and Ethics, 2019

When I first moved to Edinburgh in 2017 to undertake the LLM, not only was I moving to a new city, but a new country. Not knowing anyone before I came here, it would have been easy to feel daunted. But from the outset, it was clear that the Mason Institute (MI) was a collegial and welcoming environment, and it quickly became one which allowed me to develop as an academic, and ultimately led to me staying and pursuing my PhD here. The first (of many) MI events I attended was a memorial for the late Professor Ken Mason. From this early time, and through my experience over the last five years, his lasting legacy is palpable to see, in the sense of community, dedication to the work, and the passion for teaching and involving students is evident in what the MI does. This ethos and approach definitely played a role in persuading me to stay and pursue my doctoral research here.

A key student opportunity the MI offers is its annual Great Medico-legal Debate, a competition between Edinburgh and Glasgow universities on a current topic in health and medical law, which was launched over 10 years ago. As an LLM student, I participated as a team member, and I recently had the opportunity to lead on organising the event with MI colleagues. In 2022, Dr Ted Dove and I relaunched the debate in an expanded format, with eight teams in total debating across three rounds of competition on the theme of children, medicine and the law. We were delighted that Drummond Miller LLP provided sponsorship, and Lord Carloway, Lord President of the Court of Session, acted as our judge. In 2023, we retained the expanded format with a theme of reproduction, medicine and the law, and the involvement of students across five universities (Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde).

When it came to considering my PhD, I can still remember Professor Graeme Laurie taking the time to meet with me to help me think about identifying ‘the hole in the cheese’, to make my original contribution, and encouraging me to pick something I was passionate about. Throughout my PhD, I’ve had the opportunity to teach on the course on which I was once a student and to contribute to the MI’s research and policy engagement work. Opportunities for PhD students continue to grow through the recently formed MI PhD Research Group, co-founded by my colleagues Zahra Jaffer and Rebecca Richards. Throughout my time at Edinburgh, the MI’s approach, its events, and its members have been invaluable in supporting my academic pursuits, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Photo by Connor Mollison on Unsplash

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