New LLM program to focus on health law, ethics

The Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto is launching a new LLM with a concentration in health law, ethics, and policy this fall.

Ten years in development, the ideal time to get the program underway is now, according to Colleen Flood, U of T professor and Canada research chair in health law and policy.

“I think it’s reached a maturity where we can now say we can offer a specialization in our graduate program and I think it’s going to make it attractive for Canadian students and students from other countries to come to U of T and acquire that specialized education,” says Flood.

Students in the new LLM concentration can pursue coursework only, or a combination of both coursework and a thesis related to the area.

“There are many challenges in health care that are very complex,” she says, noting common ethical issues include the increasing cost of health care, new technologies, globalization, and the aging population.

“How do we deal with questions of new and expensive drugs and devices? How do we make decisions about whether we fund them? What are the processes? What is the evidence in the legal review of those decisions? What is the law policy . . . allowing people to buy care that we decide isn’t publicly funded?” she says. “There’s a lot coming down the pipeline.”

It’s important to create a program that explores health care from both an ethical- and policy-based perspective because they don’t answer questions well on their own, says Flood.

Students will explore what the best means is to educate the public on important health-care matters, what effective regulation looks like within the discipline, and how to determine the best ways for a court to look at health-care problems.

“We’re going to find the answers to these questions with more of a multidisciplinary approach,” she says. “I think it’s at that intersection that we will find the better solutions, otherwise I think we risk crafting legislation [and] regulation that won’t actually address the challenges properly.”

The new program is an important development within the legal landscape and health care, says Alan Belaiche, of health-care focused law firm Belaiche Law in Toronto.

“The interesting thing about this concentration is the line between law, ethics, and policy has always been quite blurry,” says Belaiche. “It’s the nature of the beast that you have ethicists sometimes who run with matters that really border on the legal [perspective], and vice versa where the lawyers sometimes get involved on ethical issues.”

From his own experience, Belaiche says it can be very complex and difficult to adequately assess and understand patient cases when so many perspectives must be considered.

“I think one of the benefits from this will be having much more integrated advice or guidance from somebody who is versed both in ethics and law,” he says.

While Belaiche thinks the new program is a step in the right direction, he also believes there could be room for further integration.

“I think there are still opportunities to interface or to create synergies with the business school to look at . . . health system policy from a governance perspective and a corporate perspective,” he says.

In a corporate setting, the shareholder’s interest would be considered, but in a health-care setting, it’s the general public’s interest that must be considered, Belaiche notes.

“That’s the calculus that gets overlooked,” he says. “Ultimately, if you look at governance and you think, ‘Well, how can organizations in health care start being more efficient, being more effective?’ Some of that has to be knowing how to get things done by understanding government, by understanding relationships.”

Still, Belaiche believes U of T’s program is a step in the right direction.

“The person who graduates with a degree in both law and ethics will have that much greater credibility in some respects than somebody who has one or the other,” Belaiche says.

Flood wants potential applicants to understand this concentration isn’t just for academics.

“It’s also for people who want to acquire more skills to go back to practise and who want to develop skills to go into public policy and into decision-making,” she says.

The new concentration will be limited to a relatively small group of students. Currently, Flood is looking at a cap of 10 to 12 people each year.

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