PUB HLTH 7108 - Public Health Ethics

North Terrace Campus - Semester 2 - 2017

This course uses the analytical tools provided by ethics and social philosophy to examine public health research, policy and practice. The course includes both foundational elements - an introduction to utilitarianism, liberalism and communitarianism as ethical frameworks for public health - and the application of these elements to aspects of: epidemiological research; health promotion; disease prevention and control; public health research and practice in international settings; community based practice and research; and public health policy.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PUB HLTH 7108
    Course Public Health Ethics
    Coordinating Unit Public Health
    Term Semester 2
    Level Postgraduate Coursework
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Intensive - a minimum of 36 hours
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange N
    Restrictions Available to Grad Cert, Grad Dip, MPH students only
    Course Description This course uses the analytical tools provided by ethics and social philosophy to examine public health research, policy and practice. The course includes both foundational elements - an introduction to utilitarianism, liberalism and communitarianism as ethical frameworks for public health - and the application of these elements to aspects of: epidemiological research; health promotion; disease prevention and control; public health research and practice in international settings; community based practice and research; and public health policy.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Dr Drew Carter

    Course Coordinator: Dr Drew Carter
    Phone: +61 8313 0620
    Location: Level 7, 178 North Terrace

    Student & Program Support Services Hub
    Phone: +61 8313 0273

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    1 Analyse and solve problems, synthesise and integrate information and ideas, and make logical arguments from evidence and theory;
    2 Describe and appropriately apply the core theoretical perspectives and concepts in public health ethics;
    3 Identify, analyse and justify a decision for ethical problems in public health;
    4 Work productively with others to analyse and make an informed decision about an ethical problem of public health importance
    5 Demonstrate higher order thinking skills with respect to the resolution of ethical problems in public health.
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Deep discipline knowledge
    • informed and infused by cutting edge research, scaffolded throughout their program of studies
    • acquired from personal interaction with research active educators, from year 1
    • accredited or validated against national or international standards (for relevant programs)
    1-3, 5
    Critical thinking and problem solving
    • steeped in research methods and rigor
    • based on empirical evidence and the scientific approach to knowledge development
    • demonstrated through appropriate and relevant assessment
    Teamwork and communication skills
    • developed from, with, and via the SGDE
    • honed through assessment and practice throughout the program of studies
    • encouraged and valued in all aspects of learning
    Career and leadership readiness
    • technology savvy
    • professional and, where relevant, fully accredited
    • forward thinking and well informed
    • tested and validated by work based experiences
    Intercultural and ethical competency
    • adept at operating in other cultures
    • comfortable with different nationalities and social contexts
    • able to determine and contribute to desirable social outcomes
    • demonstrated by study abroad or with an understanding of indigenous knowledges
    1, 5
    Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
    • a capacity for self-reflection and a willingness to engage in self-appraisal
    • open to objective and constructive feedback from supervisors and peers
    • able to negotiate difficult social situations, defuse conflict and engage positively in purposeful debate
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    This course encourages and expects participants to read widely in order to gain a full understanding of the scope of public health ethics.

    There is a set text for the course:
    Holland S. Public Health Ethics. 2nd Edition Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014.

    This text is available through UniBooks at the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia (City East campus) and Flinders University book shops.

    In addition, a reading list has been compiled which contains other required and recommended reading for the course. References and links are available on MyUni
    Recommended Resources
    Additional reading, along with lecture notes and other teaching aids, will be made available to students electronically through MyUni.
    Online Learning
    Login to MyUni using your Username and Password. Once logged on to MyUni, you will find the information displayed is customised to present only details relevant to you and the online content for courses that you are studying.
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes
    Teaching in Public Health Ethics begins from the assumption that you have a wealth of professional and personal ideas and experience and that our role as teachers is to tap into your knowledge and skills and build on them. We assume that you are willing and able to prepare fully for classes, to participate in discussions and to carry your share of the workload. While there are formal seminars and set readings, there are also many opportunities for you to be more involved in setting agendas, defining the focus of learning, and pursuing areas of interest and need.

    The course is built around examples of public health practice. People learn best when they are able to put developing knowledge and skills into practice. We believe that this is the most effective way of learning and the course has a range of seminars, tutorials and a major group project to facilitate this process. In addition, we have key concepts and theoretical issues threaded throughout the course. The intertwining of these issues is fundamental to many public health issues and to the identification, analysis and resolution of ethical problems.

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    As a general rule in any university course, you will need to allow a minimum of three independent study hours for every hour undertaken in formal class work contact. This time is needed for such activities as reading for the topic, preparation for activities in class and work on assignments.

    Time Period Task Total Hours
    Prior to start of course Reading and preparation 20
    During the course Lectures and seminars
    Group work (preparation for group assessment task)
    After the course Reading
    Work on assignments
    TOTAL 114
    Learning Activities Summary


    Topic Lecture
    1 Background and Theoretical Tools  Introduction to Public Health Ethics
    Overview of Ethical Theory
    Utilitarianism: Why Outcomes Matter in public Health
    Liberalism: Why Rights Matter in Public Health
    Communitarianism: Why communities matter in public health
    2 Core Topics in Public Health Ethics  Equity and Fairness
    Themes and Tensions in Public Health Ethics
    Ethics of Health Promotion
    Other TBA
    3 Topics in Public Health Ethics Organisational Ethics
    Ethics and Vulnerable Populations
    Ethical reasoning and public health
    4 Topics in Public Health Ethics TBA (specific content changes each year
    And is finalised ~ July or August
    5 Topics in Public Health Ethics TBA (specific content changes each year
    And is finalised ~ July or August

    Group Presentations
    Specific Course Requirements
    Small Group Discovery Experience
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment Task Assessment Type Weighting Learning Outcome(s) being addressed
    Group Project Presentation Summative 25% 1-5
    Case Study in Public Health Ethics (500 words) Formative N/A 3, 5
    Reflections on Case Study (1500 words) Summative 25% 1-3, 5
    Major Essay (3500 words) Summative 50% 1-3, 5
    Assessment Related Requirements
    Assessment Detail
    Task 1: Group Project
    The group project is an opportunity for students to work together in small groups to analyse and come to a conclusion about a defined ethical issue, which will be introduced on Tuesday afternoon.

    Each group will be provided with the same scenario. You will be asked to:
    Identify the ethical issues raised in the scenario;
    Use ethical tools and principles to analyse and evaluate these ethical issues; and
    Come to a decision about the ethically correct course of action, and give reasons justifying this decision.

    Each group will give a 15-minute presentation on Friday afternoon. There is time allocated during the week for groups to prepare their presentations.

    Task 2: Analysis of, and reflections on, a public health issue
    This task has two components:

    Write a case study (approximately 500 words) which presents an ethical dilemma you have confronted. You will need to provide information on the time, context, your interpretations/analysis and conclusions.

    You may use any of a range of sources of information for this paper. For example, you may:
    Use your work experiences;
    Ask colleagues to describe an ethical problem they have experienced;
    Describe a problem you have encountered yourself as a user of health services;
    Use an issue reported in the media;
    Ask family or friends to describe a problem they have encountered as users of health services.
    You do not have to be involved in the problem yourself, but it must be something from ‘real life’ and it must be something that is of broader relevance to the health of the public.

    For the paper, you should do two things:
    Briefly describe the problem along the following lines:
    Who is involved? What information about the people involved in this situation is relevant?
    What is the context or setting? Which aspects of this setting are most important?
    Where and when is the issue set?
    If the issue is one on which some resolution has been reached, how have things turned out?
    Very briefly outline what you regard as the key ethical arguments concerning this issue. At this stage, we expect only a very preliminary description. Obviously, the course is designed to help you understand and develop these arguments!

    On Day 1 of the course, you will discuss these issues with other students. On Day 5, you will have an opportunity to present your preliminary reflections on how the course has influenced your understanding of the ethical issue you have identified.

    Based on the original 500-word paper, write an essay of approximately 1000 words, in two parts:
    First Part: Prepare an ethical analysis of the issue you brought with you to Public Health Ethics. In undertaking this analysis, you should make use of those aspects of the course content that are most appropriate to your issue. The following questions may be helpful as a guide:
    What resolution, outcome and/or policy is the most ethically acceptable?
    What ethical frameworks, principles and arguments will support this position?
    What counterarguments might be offered? How would you refute them?
    Second Part: In what ways has Public Health Ethics influenced your understanding of this issue?

    Task 3: Essay
    This essay, of approximately 3500 words, is a piece of individual work designed to develop the ability to carefully consider, analyse and propose a resolution for an ethical issue of public health importance. There will be a choice of four topics:

    The Federal HPV Vaccination Programme
    In late 2006 Gardasil (a vaccine which prevents infection with some strains of HPV, associated with cervical cancer and genital warts) was approved by the PBAC for government subsidy under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In 2007 the Australian Government began a federally funded national HPV Vaccination Programme (funded under the Immunise Australia Program); between 2007 and 2008 12-18 year old girls were offered vaccination in a school-based programme, while until the end of 2009 13-26 year old girls and women were offered the vaccine through GPs and community immunisation services. There is currently an ongoing publicly funded school-based programme for girls in their first year of secondary school. However, there has been ongoing controversy regarding the HPV vaccination programme, due to the circumstances under which it was approved by the PBAC, and resistance in some segments of the community to the vaccination of pre-teen girls against a sexually transmitted disease.

    Briefly outline the ethical issues regarding the implementation of the national HPV vaccination programme. Choose one of these issues, analyse it, and offer a resolution.

    Useful Reading:
    Colgrove J. The ethics and politics of compulsory HPV vaccination. N Engl J Med. 2006 Dec 7; 355(23): 2389-91.
    Zimmerman RK. Ethical analysis of HPV vaccine policy options. Vaccine 2006 May 29; 24(22): 4812-20.
    Haas M et al. Drugs, sex, money and power: An HPV vaccine case study. Health Policy 2009 92: 288-295.
    WHO Position Paper on HPV Vaccine. At <> (Scroll down to ‘Human Papillomavirus’).
    Yudin MH. “HPV Vaccination: Time to End the Debate.” Opinions in Pediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology 23 2010: 55-56.

    End Stage Renal Disease in Indigenous Australians
    Indigenous Australians, particularly those living in rural and remote areas, have an incidence of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) many times higher than that of non-Indigenous Australians. The optimal treatment for ESRD is kidney transplantation; however, indigenous ESRD patients are only 1/3 to ½ as likely to receive a kidney transplant, and in fact are less likely to be put on the transplant waiting list. In allocating donor kidneys, weight is placed on HLA-matching between donor and recipient, and other factors which maximise the chances of a good outcome. However, this has raised concerns about inequities of access for indigenous patients.
    Identify the ethical issues involved, analyse them, and make some suggestion/s for how they might be resolved.

    Useful Reading:
    Lowe M, Kerridge IH, Mitchell KR. `These sorts of people don’t do very well’: race and allocation of health care resources. Journal of Medical Ethics 1995 21: 356-360.
    Anderson I. The ethics of the allocation of health resources. In G Coslishaw and B Morris eds., Race Matters: Indigenous Australians and `Our’ Society. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1997, pp191-208.
    McDonald SP and Russ GR. Burden of end-stage renal disease among indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand. Kidney International 2003 63 Suppl. 83: S123-S127.
    O’Sullivan C, Brady SJ, Lawton PD, and Love CM. Everybody’s Business. Nephrology 2004 9: S117-S120.
    Australian Medical Association. Institutionalised Inequity: Not Just a Matter of Money. Australian Medical Association Report Card Series 2007: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. At <>

    PSA Screening for Prostate Cancer
    Prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in men worldwide. Screening for prostate cancer by means of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test has become widespread in Australia, the UK and the USA, and is regarded as a safe and simple method of detecting early prostate cancer. However, there has been controversy over whether PSA testing should be routine: the Cancer Council Australia, and similar bodies overseas, do not recommend its routine adoption, as the costs and harms associated with overdiagnosis and overtreatment may outweigh the benefits. Instead, it is recommended that individual men make informed decisions about whether to undergo PSA testing.

    Identify and analyse the ethical issues involved, and argue either in favour of, or against, the adoption in Australia of a PSA screening programme.

    Useful Reading:
    Stark J et al. Prostate Cancer Screening: the controversy continues. BMJ 2009 Oct 3; 339: 784-786.
    Justman S. Uninformed Consent: Mass Screening for Prostate Cancer. Bioethics early view (online), published May 2010. <>
    Andriole G, et al. The Case for Prostate Cancer Screening with Prostate-Specific Antigen. European Urology Supplements 2006 5: 737-745.
    Cancer Council Australia. Position Statement: Prostate Cancer. <>
    Pinnock CB. PSA testing in general practice: can we do more now? MJA 2004; 180; 19 April: 379-381.

    Negotiated Topic
    You are welcome to select a topic of relevance to public health ethics that interests you and to negotiate an essay question based around this topic. Please note that the essay question MUST be discussed and agreed with the topic convenor in advance.
    All extensions for assignments must be requested, at the latest, by the last working day before the due date of submission.   Extensions will generally be granted only on medical or genuine compassionate grounds.  Supporting documentation must be  provided at the time a student requests an extension.  Without documentation, extensions will not be granted.  Late requests for extension will neither be accepted nor acknowledged.

    Only the Course Co-ordinator(s) may grant extensions.

    Supporting documentation will be required when requesting an extension. Examples of documents that are acceptable include: a  medical certificate that specifies dates of incapacity, a police report (in the case of lost computers, car & household theft etc.), a  letter from a Student Counsellor, Education and Welfare Officer (EWO) or Disability Liaison Officer that provides an assessment of  compassionate circumstances, or a letter from an independent external counsellor or appropriate professional able to verify the  student’s situation.  The length of any extension granted will take into account the period and severity of any incapacity or impact  on the student.  Extensions of more than 10 days will not be granted except in exceptional circumstances.

    Late submission
    Marks will be deducted when assignments for which no extension has been granted are handed in late.

    All assignments, including those handed in late, will be assessed on their merits.  In the case of late assignments where no  extension has been granted, 5 percentage points of the total marks possible per day will be deducted.  If an assignment that is 2  days late is awarded 65% on its merits, the mark will then be reduced by 10% (5% per day for 2 days) to 55%.  If that same  assignment is 4 days late, the mark will be reduced by 20% (5% per day for 4 days) to 45%, and so on.

    The School of Public Health reserves the right to refuse to accept an assignment that is more than 7 days late.

    Assignments submitted after the due date may not be graded in time to be returned on the listed return dates.

    Students submitting examinable written work who request (and receive) an extension that takes them beyond the examination  period are advised that there is no guarantee that their grades will be processed in time to meet usual University deadlines.
    If a student is dissatisfied with an assessment grade they should follow the Student Grievance Resolution Process  <>.  Students who are not satisfied with a particular assessment result should raise their concerns with Course Co-ordinator(s) in the first instance.  This must be done within 10 business days of the  date of notification of the result.  Resubmission of any assignment is subject to the agreement of the Course Co-ordinator(s) and  will only be permitted for the most compelling of reasons.
    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

The University of Adelaide is committed to regular reviews of the courses and programs it offers to students. The University of Adelaide therefore reserves the right to discontinue or vary programs and courses without notice. Please read the important information contained in the disclaimer.