LLAW6274 & JDOC6274

General Course Information

1.1 Course details

Course code: LLAW6274 / JDOC6274
Course name: The Beginning and End of Life
Programme offered under: LLM Programme / JD Programme
Semester: Second
Prerequisites / Co-requisites: No
Credit point value: 9 credits / 6 credits

1.2 Course description

The course examines in depth some of the most compelling ethical, legal and social issues brought about by the advent of modern technology which has blurred the certainty traditionally taken for granted as regards the constructs of the beginning of life and of its end.

Major components of the course include the following sections:

The Foetus and the Beginning of Life.  When does human life begin from the perspective of the law?  What kind of protections does the law provide for the foetus or the unborn child?  Starting with an examination of the common law doctrines bearing on the beginning of human life, we move onto a consideration of the relevant provisions of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance governing abortion, child destruction and infanticide, and then to a wider consideration of abortion laws and policies around the world.  We will also examine current legal perspectives on the balance of rights between the interests of the unborn child and its mother, and how such perspectives affect the structure of legal regimes governing the right to abortion, and/or to the limits placed on such procedures.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies. This section deals with the impact of artificial or assisted reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization, donated gametes, and surrogacy. What controls should there be on genetic screening and genetic selection procedures, including procedures such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which allow the selection of embryos (whether against severely disabling or likely fatal heritable conditions, or for gender or ‘social’ reasons) for implantation?  How should supernumerary or ‘spare’ embryos be dealt with?

Decisions at the End of Life.  How is death currently defined in the law, and is it a moving target because of rapid developments in medical technology?  On what basis is the shift from the traditional cardiovascular death standard to that of ‘whole-brain death’ to be justified?  In this section, the course examines ethical, legal and social perspectives on patient autonomy and the right of self-determination, anticipatory decisions and advance directives, refusal of treatment, and emergency treatment of the incompetent or unconscious. It explores the concept of medical futility, and the right to refuse treatment (and conversely, the right to demand treatment), before going on to consider arguments for the right to die and euthanasia.

1.3 Course teachers

Name E-mail address Office Consultation
Course convenor Terry Kaan kaan@hku.hk TBA By email

Learning Outcomes

2.1 Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) for this course

CLO 1 Students will be able to recognize the common ethical themes and problems with procedures at the beginning of life and critically evaluate arguments for and against certain procedures.

CLO 2 Students will be able to develop understanding of cultural and familial context of beginning and end of life cases, including issues related to disability, power and inequality in the context of medico-legal decision-making.

CLO 3 Students will be able to evaluate complex issues repeatedly arising in medical and legal debates at the end of life, including concepts of brain death, medical futility, advance care planning, assisted dying and capacity.

CLO 4 Students will be able to familiarize themselves with analytical tools used to aid clinicians in approaching controversial ethical dilemmas and compare and contrast with processes used in judicial decisions and statutory guidance used in different jurisdictions to assist in decision-making at the beginning and end of life.

CLO 5 Students will be able to examine the concept of what makes a life valuable to both an individual and to society (in particular concepts of personhood and autonomy) and apply these theoretical considerations to medical and legal decision making in case studies and policy setting.

2.2 LLM and JD Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs)

Please refer to the following link:

LLM – https://course.law.hku.hk/llm-plo/

JD – https://course.law.hku.hk/jd-plo/

2.3 Programme Learning Outcomes to be achieved in this course



3.1 Assessment Summary

Assessment task Due date Weighting Feedback method* Course learning outcomes
Class participation (including reflection papers) TBC 30% 1 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Take home exam 15 May 2024 70% 1 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
*Feedback method (to be determined by course teacher)
1 A general course report to be disseminated through Moodle
2 Individual feedback to be disseminated by email / through Moodle
3 Individual review meeting upon appointment
4 Group review meeting
5 In-class verbal feedback

3.2 Assessment Detail

To be advised by course convenor(s).

3.3 Grading Criteria

Please refer to the following link: https://www.law.hku.hk/_files/law_programme_grade_descriptors.pdf

Learning Activities

4.1 Learning Activity Plan

Seminar: 3 hours / week for 11 teaching weeks
Private study time: 9.5 hours / week for 11 teaching weeks

Remarks: the normative student study load per credit unit is 25 ± 5 hours (ie. 150 ± 30 hours for a 6-credit course), which includes all learning activities and experiences within and outside of classroom, and any assessment task and examinations and associated preparations.

4.2 Details of Learning Activities

To be advised by course convenor(s).

Learning Resources

5.1 Resources

Reading materials: Reading materials are posted on Moodle
Core reading list: TBA
Recommended reading list: TBA

5.2 Links

Please refer to the following link: http://www.law.hku.hk/course/learning-resources/