Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights

Health law, bioethics, and human rights are complementary disciplines for defining and analyzing how the public’s health can and should be most effectively protected. Health law is the main means for defining and implementing public health policy. Law is also the primary tool for promoting individual civil and human rights. Bioethics provides a framework for values and beliefs that influence patients, providers, health care organizations, government agencies, and private institutions. A working knowledge of bioethics is critical for public health professionals to understand when and how legal rights and duties are grounded in ethics. Last, a human rights paradigm enables public health practitioners to make public health interventions more responsive to the people they serve and provides a global perspective on public health problems. All students in the HLB&HR concentration will explore the dynamic interaction between these three areas in a wide range of public health programs such as reforming health insurance, conducting biomedical research, and understanding reproductive rights.

The Master of Public Health with a concentration in Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights is appropriate for students planning careers in law, public policy, advocacy, or academia. Students are provided with skills and knowledge in the legal aspects of public health and health care, written and oral presentation skills and tools for critical and analytical thinking. Students will gain practical skills that can be applied immediately in a variety of career pathways including hospital administration, biomedical research, law, and regulatory affairs. Students may enhance their learning and gain additional experience by participating in fellowship opportunities in Health Law & Bioethics.


In addition to the program competencies that all MPH graduates master, upon completing the requirements for the MPH in Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights, graduates are able to:

  • conduct research using public health, legal, ethics and/or human rights literature on public health problems
  • apply critical reasoning in a paper that integrates public health skills with policy, regulatory and legislative goals
  • create and deliver a clear and effective oral presentation on a public health topic that presents ethical or legal issues

Emphasis Areas

Students who wish to delve deeper into a specific area of study can use concentration and School-wide electives to focus their studies in one of two emphasis areas. Your advisor can help you decide if an emphasis is right for you and suggest which courses to take within that emphasis. For full program details, please visit the Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights Concentrator’s Guide or the BU online bulletin. Prospective students should contact the Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights Department for additional information.

Bioethics Emphasis

In addition to their work in health law, bioethics emphasis students will explore the nature and scope of moral dilemmas and problematic decision-making in public health, medicine, and health care, including the nature of health, disease, and illness; health promotion and disease prevention; and rights, access, and the limits of health care, among others. Upon completion of the emphasis courses students will be able to competently conduct an in-depth ethical assessment and analysis of public health and medical dilemmas and strategies, and will be prepared to do ethical analyses of human subjects research as well, both in the US and abroad.

Human Rights Emphasis

In addition to their work in health law, human rights emphasis students will explore the nature and function of international human rights law, with special emphasis on the right to health, as well as the NGO community, and international global health organizations, including the WHO and various UN agencies. Upon completion of their emphasis courses, students will be prepared to competently conduct a human rights assessment of public health and medical strategies designed to improve the lives and health of people around the world, and will also be prepared to begin to do human rights advocacy work in the health field.