School of Population Health

Ethics in Public Health (PHCM3001)


This course provides an overview of ethical considerations and issues pertinent to public health and healthcare. Students will examine ethical theories and principles, and key legal concepts, and their application to healthcare and public health contexts. The course enables students to identify and analyse the ethical challenges of balancing the interests of individuals and communities within a healthcare context which is costly, complex and increasingly globalised. While the focus is on public health ethics which includes health policy and promotion, clinical and research ethics will also be examined as integral components of contemporary, cutting-edge healthcare service and delivery.

Credit points

This is a core course in the Bachelor of International Public Health (3880) comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program.

Mode of study

Fully online.


There are no pre-requisite courses that need to be completed before undertaking this course.

Course aim

The aim of this course is to consider ethical issues pertinent to public health. The course examines the ethical challenges of balancing the interests of individuals and communities within a context which is complex and increasingly globalised. The focus is on public health ethics, which includes health policy and promotion. Clinical and research ethics will also be examined when there is cross over between clinical and research contexts and public health imperatives.

Course Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of a range of ethical issues associated with public health
  • Apply ethical frameworks and principles to current policies in public health and discuss the ethical implications
  • Recognise the links (and differences) between ethics and law
  • Outline the differences between public health and clinical ethics
  • Critically reflect on own biases and assumptions in ethical reasoning
  • Identify and discuss the concepts of informed consent, competence, substitute decision-making, duty of care, privacy and confidentiality, and mandatory reporting
  • Articulate tensions between just resource allocation and the ‘rule of rescue’
  • Plan, research, and write reports drawing on the course theories, concepts and principles of public health ethics, and a variety of institutional and academic sources
Learning and teaching rationale

The course draws on the provision of online lectures and group discussion work and other course material as key teaching strategies. Case studies focusing on key public health issues will be presented and discussed to illustrate key concepts. Each week, we recommend each student devotes 1-2 hours to reading the core readings before listening to the recorded lecture, and participating in the tutorial activities. Active participation in online group discussions and activities is central to students learning in this course as students will learn from each other as well as from the course materials. This facilitates discussion and collaboration which is key to ethical decision making. 

This course requires approximately 140 hours of work.  The course is delivered totally online over a ten week term.  Students are expected to spend approximately 10 hours a week preparing for and actively participating in this course and preparing for and completing assessments.


Assessment Task 1 - Quiz
Weighting: 15%

Assessment Task 2 - Online Discussion Posts
Weighting: 20%

Assessment Task 3 - Analysis of Health Policy
Weighting: 25%
Length: 800 words

Assessment Task 4 - Ethical Analysis of a Public health Issue
Weighting: 40%
Length: 1200 words

Readings and resources

Pertinent reading material including articles and chapters, and other relevant resources including supplementary videos will be provided during the course.