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McGill Faculty of Law gains public policy expertise

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

Dr. Philipe Couillard, former minister of health and social services for the province of Quebec, has joined McGill University as a senior fellow in its research group on health and law. As someone strongly rooted in the public policy behind health care in Canada, and deeply interested in the law, Couillard is a valuable addition to the university, says Faculty of Law dean Nicholas Kasirer.

The position is a joint appointment between the faculties of medicine and law. Kasirer explains how Couillard’s background in health care, law, and public policy will help to broaden the educational experience of students in his faculty.

“Part of it turns on the person of Philipe Couillard, in Quebec and in the broader landscape,” says Kasirer.

He explains that in his role of minister of health, Couillard “took the public policy dimension of his dossier extremely seriously. And that meant regulating access to health care as a legal matter, and a political matter, as one of the ways in which law and medicine interact.”

“McGill has asserted health law, which is of course a vast field, as one of its strategic priorities,” says Kasirer.

Couillard will add to the educational resources in the field through lectures, speaking as a special guest in classes and research activities.

The health law group covers broad issues. On one side, you’ll find the private sector issues, which Kasirer says includes “matters relating to medical liability — did the doctor leave the sponge in my stomach, and can I sue? — which is kind of a traditional way in which lawyers worry about medicine.”

It also extends to ethics; “ethical questions relating to medicine and law — anything from stem cell research, abortion, that kind of thing, that are contested,” says Kasirer.

Couillard’s involvement will be especially valuable in the public policy area. Kasirer says the health law group will examine things such as “to what extent is access to health care a right, maybe even a constitutional right,” to issues of dividing up the health-care budget, along with discussing the proper role that law plays is regulating these matters.

“Philipe Couillard is quite well known; in fact in some circles he’s viewed as a strong proponent of some private sector presence in health-care delivery, which would, according to his arguments, improve not only the quality of health care but maybe even access to health care for the whole community,” says Kasirer. “Some people disagree with that.”

Kasirer says Couillard will help in opening up a broader public debate at the school. He’ll have plenty of people to interact with, being joined by students and academics from both the faculty of medicine and faculty of law.

There will be “people who may disagree with him — proponents for free universal health care on the one hand, proponents of absolutely private health care on the other,” says Kasirer. “He’ll be in that debate, and he’ll come to it as a physician, a former minister, and someone deeply interested in the law."

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