LLM Programme

The taught modules offered on the LLM programme vary from year to year. Please check the full list of taught modules list for details of modules running in specific academic years. We make every effort to ensure that every module will be offered, but modules are subject to change and cancellation. You are therefore advised to check this site regularly for further updates throughout the year preceding entry to the LLM programme.

Credit value: 30 credits (12 ECTS)
Module Convenor:
Professor Jonathan Montgomery
Other Teachers: N/A


Bioethical issues are both controversial and important. They present challenges both of substance and process. They raise important questions about the nature of societies; their tolerance of moral pluralism, their approaches to political authority and the values that underpin their conceptions of the public good. They also raise important issues about regulatory tools, including the nature and role of law. This course draws on both the research and practical experience of the Convenor, who has served on a wide range of 'public ethics' bodies, including as chair of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics (the nearest that the UK has to a national ethics committee), the Health Research Authority and the Human Genetics Commission.

The course aims to give students the opportunity to explore key issues and principles in the governance of bioethical issues in liberal democracies through a combination of conceptual analysis and the examination of case studies. It considers some key problems in the definition and theory of bioethics, including its nature and scope, and critically examines the question of whether it is a discipline in its own right or a field of study. The course also examines bioethics as a governance practice, whereby issues are deliberated and sometimes regulated using social institutions (e.g. commissions, courts, licensing bodies). This is a practice that raises important questions about authority and the ‘enforcement of morality’ in a pluralist society. As well as appraising such approaches, the course also explores whether bioethics governance may have extended its reach too far, whether into private morality or into areas that should be governed under a different paradigm.

Case studies are used to explore a range of governance options and assess their strengths and weaknesses. These are drawn principally from the UK, with selected international comparisons.

Thematic Issues include questions of globalisation (are principles and practices universal or country specific?), legitimacy (limits on state authority in areas of moral controversy); democracy (representation, deliberation); constitutionalism (Parliamentary sovereignty, separation of powers), the politics of evidence and 'expertise'.

Regulatory options considered include prohibition, market regulation, licensing, structured decision-making, professional norms, test-case litigation, judicial oversight.


  1. What is bioethics? A discipline (definitions from academic literature), an area of study (coverage of major texts). Students to identify bioethical issues from recent media coverage.
  2. Key Concepts in Bioethics
  3. What is bioethics governance? WHO programme for National Ethics Committees; international conventions, scope of topics example examined by NECs (French CNEE as illustration - longest established committee). Students to research topics within work programmes of allocated NECs via UNESCO web resources.
  4. A brief history of research governance; introducing the history since Nuremberg, developments of concepts & documents (international and domestic), including critical versions, regulatory responses (RECs/IRBs) and local governance issues (NHS as example). Students to lead on criticisms from selected readings.
  5. Bioethics Governance in UK - outline of history, including strategic reviews undertaken in 1999, 2004 and 2010. 'Ad hocery' & anticipatory governance. Rationales for 'bonfire of the Quangos' and emerging landscape.
  6. Case Study: Governance by licensing authority I - origin and structure of the HFEA - covers both the regulatory technique and also the importance of a historical perspective, law-making by elaborative interpretation (examples as in MLR paper 2014). Review of work.
  7. Case Study: Governance by licensing authority II - challenging bioethics governance in the courts. Litigation against HFEA; including Blood case, two Quintavalle challenges, Taranassi, Evans v Amicus, Warren.
  8. Case Study: Governance by licensing authority III - reform of the HFEA, Select Committee reports, 2008 amendments, Gov proposal to disband, McCracken review - drawing about debate about the criteria for establishing the legitimacy of bioethics governance.
  9. The legitimacy of bioethics governance. What is the nature of the public interests in bioethics? How and when are legal and governance inventions justified. Are there areas that have been inappropriately absorbed into bioethics governance? Revisiting what was identified in weeks 1 & 2.
  10. An alternative - Market regulation; cosmetic surgery, contract, tort, consent, caveat emptor, exclusion of public value judgements. Non-market goods; resistance to commodification; surrogacy, organ sales - student presentations
  11. Case Study - Private ethics and public parameters - abortion and the structuring of decision-making, safeguards including confidentiality matters, framing of relevant parties (foetus, father). Canadian experience post-Morganteler.
  12. Case Study - Assisted Dying I: test case litigation, Bland, Re B, Burke, Pretty, Purdy, Aintree, Nicklinson/Martin; rights based regimes, definitions of rights, will & choice theories, negative and positive rights; governance through discretionary enforcement, value to be placed on certainty (bright line issues)
  13. Case Study - Assisted Dying II: Parliamentary oversight; committee scrutiny as a policy-making model (considering the post Bland committee and also the scrutiny of the Joffe bill)
  14. Case Study - Assisted Dying III: the Falconer Commission, privatisation of governance, foundations for legitimacy. subsequent references in court & Parliament.
  15. Case study - Nuffield Council on Bioethics; seeking legitimacy in independence, quality assurance, expertise & openness. Topic selection. Scope of terms of reference. Assessing effectiveness.
  16. The 'authority' of bioethicists. Examining debates about the nature of expertise in bioethics (e.g. David Archard's paper). Examination of membership of 'governance bodies'.
  17. Policy development by taskforce: Organ Donation, opt-out/presumed consent; looks at role of public opinion, consultation, organisation contexts, international comparative analogies. Comparison of English & Welsh approaches to policy making.
  18. Human Cloning - comparing use of litigation to establish principles with legislative approach and examining why the separate 2001 Act was passed rather than amendments made to the HFEA 1990. Possibly looking at (ir)relevance of international norms (Protocol to Oviedo Convention) in explaining UK position.
  19. Core Issues in Bioethics Governance - a review.
  20. National Ethics Committees; international perspectives, options, regulatory choices - implications for UK.

Background Reading (optional):

UNESCO, National Bioethics Committees in Action (UNESCO 2010) downloadable from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001895/189548e.pdf

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have made their module selections upon enrolment in September.

Delivery and enrolment
Lectures/Seminars: 20 x 2-hour seminars
Tutorials: None
Previous module enrolments: N/A – This module will run for the first time in 2014/15
Who may enrol: LLM students, other UCL Masters students
Prerequisities: None
Barred module combinations: None
Core Module for LLM specialism: Public Law, Criminal Justice, Family and Social Welfare
Final Assessment: 6,000 word coursework essay
Practice Assessment: Opportunity for feedback on 1 optional practice essay per term (draft consultation response term 1; thematic essay term 2). Some seminars will also offer students the opportunity to make presentations.


The application process for the 2015-16 academic session is now open.

Please note, for the 2015-16 intake, we are not accepting the TOEFL test. If you have an English condition to meet, you must take one of the alternative tests listed here instead.