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Unit information: Health Law and the Body in 2017/18

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Unit name Health Law and the Body
Unit code LAWDM0133
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Sheelagh McGuinness
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit aims to provide a firm knowledge and understanding of the theoretical literature on bodies and embodiment. Students will be equipped to critically assess the legal frameworks that regulate and contain bodies and bodily material. The unit approaches these questions through a range of practical, legal, and critical pathways, explaining the relevant legal frameworks, and examining specific legal constructions of different bodily forms. By providing a strong grounding in theoretical literature the unit will enable students to assess critically the regulation of bodies and bodily material. Students will be encouraged to translate their understanding of the theoretical material and apply this to a series of case studies in how bodies and shaped and created in law. A guest lecture will be delivered in order to ensure students also gain an insight into the realities of policy-making in this area.

Intended learning outcomes

The Unit aims to develop an understanding of Health Law and the Body.

On completion of the Unit, students should be able to:

  1. Analyse critically theoretical literature on embodiment and legal personhood.
  2. Have a critical understanding of different legal frameworks and how they construct part accounts of human bodies and bodily material.
  3. Undertake independent research and critical analysis in relation to questions raised on the Unit, particularly exploring further the range of case studies that will be examined on the unit.
  4. Apply critically such knowledge and understanding within a discursive, critical essay
  5. Apply critically such knowledge and understanding within a discursive, critical essay through a research-led law reform project.
  6. State and analyse relevant law and other modes of regulation accurately, specifically students should be able to evidence a critical understanding of specialist regulators in this area.
  7. Apply legal and political principles to practical questions concerning health law and the body.

Teaching details

The Unit will provide thirty contact hours, comprised in eight topic/approach-focused lectures, two lectures focused on feedback and coursework preparation, and ten two-hour seminars incorporating mixed teaching and learning methods.

Assessment Details

The summative assessment for this Unit will be in the form of 1 x 2000-word critical, discursive essay, weighted at 33%, and 1 x 4000-word law reform project, weighted at 67% (this will be a research and advocacy project, on whose structure and content students will receive clear guidance). Students’ overall mark will be established by the combined result of the two assignments.

As it is an innovative assessment method, it may be useful to see some further detail on the law reform project:

  • this form of assessment is appropriate in particular in terms of the skills-development that are foundational to the overall programme of study: it requires students to identify a problematic area of health as a social concern, present a legal/regulatory response to that problem, and advance a defence for the proposed reform
  • students are given clear guidance on approach to research and presentation of the projects
  • that guidance explains that the project should incorporate three substantive sections (plus an intro and conclusion): first, with particular reference to primary sources and critically reasoned/evidenced argument, a case is made for why an area of health law is problematic; second, a reform proposal is described and explained; third, a justification section explains how and why the reform proposal will improve health law
  • this is an assessment model that one of the programme tutors (Coggon) has used very successfully elsewhere (and which was found to be very popular amongst students)
  • the relative weight compared to the essay represents the reality that a greater word space is a benefit on this sort of project
  • the project is formulated through library-based research, so there will be no question of students engaging in original empirical work for the project (and thus attendant potential problems associated with need for ethical clearance)

The subject matter of the assignments will relate to practical points addressed through the learning and teaching, and will assess all of the intended learning outcomes of the Unit. The first assignment will focus in particular on ILOs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, and the second will focus in particular on ILOs 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.

The formative assessment will be one 1500-word critical, discursive essay. There will be an opportunity for direct feedback on a separate law reform exercise through student presentations.

Additional opportunities for non-assessed formative work and feedback will be provided through mixed teaching methods and student-led tasks in seminars.

Reading and References

Specific reading lists will be provided within the Unit Guide as updated annually. These will include textbook readings, primary legal and regulatory materials, and secondary materials such as public reports and academic works.

Indicative points of reference:

  • Robert Lee and Derek Morgan, Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Regulating the Reproductive Revolution (Blackstone, 2002)
  • Lyn Morgan and Meredith Michaels (eds), Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999)
  • Sarah Franklin and Celia Roberts, Born and Made: An Ethnography of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (Princeton, 2006)
  • Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2013)
  • Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Vintage, 1998)
  • Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011)
  • Lennard Davis, The Disability Studies Reader, 4th edn, (Routledge, 2013)
  • Rosemary Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (Columbia University Press, 1997)
  • Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge, 2006)
  • Margaret Radin, Contested Commodities: The Trouble with Trade in Sex, Children, Body Parts and Other Things (Harvard University Press, 2001)
  • Stephen Wilkinson, Bodies for Sale: Ethics and Exploitation in the Human Body Trade (Routledge, 2003)
  • Joanne Conaghan, Law and Gender (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Robin West, Caring for Justice (New York University Press, 1999)
  • Regina Graycar and Jenny Morgan, The Hidden Gender of Law, 2nd edn (Federation Press, 2002)