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PHIL511 Philosophy and the Moral Life

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

In this unit, students will come to know the regulatory and legal environment in which health professionals work and will acquire a principled understanding of how best to respond to the challenges generated by regulation. The unit will focus on the major predictable consequences of various regulations and on the sources of conflict between them.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - demonstrate an understanding of the main sets of standards which inform health care practice (GA8; GA10); 

LO2 - demonstrate the characteristics of a health care professional who is ethically-sensitive and legally-informed (GA2; GA8); 

LO3 - critically analyse some key legal and regulatory challenges relating to ethically reflective health care practice (GA8). 

Graduate attributes

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  • The relationships and distinctions between ethical judgement and legal and regulatory requirements:
  • Statutory obligations: e.g., privacy legislation, discrimination legislation; 
  • Codes of professional bodies: e.g., AMA, Aust Nursing Fed; 
  • Statements of human rights: e.g., Relevant UN Declarations; 
  • Health Ethics Committees: e.g., AHEC, HREC; 
  • Church policy: 1983 Code of Canon Law and Code of Ethics; 
  • Institutional regulations: e.g., Code of Conduct; 
  • Rights, responsibilities and duty of care; 
  • Consent: Advance care directives and consent involving minors; 
  • The definition of death; 
  • End of life decisions: euthanasia, assisted suicide; 
  • Beginning of life decisions: abortion, prenatal diagnosis, neonatal care, infanticide; 
  • Organ donation (both cadaveric and living); 
  • Ethical standards for human research; 
  • Patient rights, patient records and respect for patient autonomy; 
  • Professional boundaries; 
  • Confidentiality, privacy, freedom of information. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. The unit has been designed as a blend of a blend of collaborative learning and project-based learning approaches, combined with direct instruction to introduce and draw out new and unfamiliar concepts and theories. The collaborative context of the unit is focused especially on the small group discussion of the weekly readings. The project-based aspect relates to the research project on which students work throughout the second half of the unit, culminating in their research essay.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit is designed to facilitate broad engagement across the topics covered, while also requiring deeper engagement with one of the unit topics in particular. The tutorial oral and accompanying short written task requires students to demonstrate skills in attentive and accurate reading of a key text, and to explicate it in clear and concise oral and written formats. The short written task that follows requires students to explicate and analyse another text at greater length. Finally, the research essay task provides students with the opportunity to undertake sustained philosophical reading and research, culminating in an extended piece of formal writing that examines their capacity to develop a coherent argument in response to an important philosophical question.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Tutorial oral and associated short written task  

Requires students to demonstrate skills in written and spoken exposition and analysis of a text. 



GA8, GA10

Written analysis task 

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.


LO1, LO2

GA2, GA8, GA10

Argumentative/Research Essay

Requires students to critically analyse an important debate in the field and to develop a coherent position.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA2, GA8, GA10

Representative texts and references

Breen, K et al, (2010) Good Medical Practice: Professionalism,Ethics and Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Catholic Health Australia.(2001) Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia

Lewis, M., (2012) Medical Law, Ethics and Bioethics for the Health Professions.(7th Ed). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company. 

Mason, J.K. and R. A. McCall-Smith.(2010) Law and Medical Ethics (8th Ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Morrisey, F., (2002) “Trustees and Canon Law”, Health Progress, Vol 83, No 6, 11-18

National Health and Medical Research Council.(2007) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. 

Repenshek, M., (2004) “Stewardship and Organizational Ethics”, Health Progress, Vol 85, No 3, 31-35. 

Skene, L., (2003) Law and Medical Practice: Rights, Duties, Claims and Defences, Butterworths, Melbourne, Canberra. 

Wallace, M. (2001) Health Care and the Law(3rd Ed).Sydney: The Law Book Company of Australasia. 

Werhane, P.H., (2002) “Business, Ethics, Organization Ethics, and Systems Ethics for Health Care” in N.E. Bowie (ed), The Blackwell Guide to Business Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell.

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