Health Law, Policy and Bioethics

Career Path Introduction

Health Law, Policy and Bioethics comprise a rapidly changing area of study that deals with a broad range of issues. Health care lawyers work locally, nationally and internationally on problems such as access to health care, oversight of health care providers and institutions, and regulation of novel medical technologies. The field thrives because one-eighth of the economy involves health care. Components of this field include products liability, health care finance, and health care regulation, as well as disability law, drug and device law, mental health law, public health law and consumer protection.

Bioethics likewise is a central part of the field that involves the legal and ethical considerations that help determine the appropriate relationship between patients and health care providers. Topics include informed consent, confidentiality of patient records, and appropriate care by physicians and other medical personnel as well as the ethical questions posed by emerging technologies, such as those that prolong life and affect human reproduction. Bioethics also studies the impact of new medical technologies on individuals, families, relationships and social institutions—with the goal of developing appropriate legal policies.

Attorneys in health-related practice areas can be found in law firms, hospitals, drug companies, insurance companies, HMOs, and nonprofits devoted to health and disability advocacy. Others work for the offices of state attorneys general or for U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Still others help set policy by advising elected officials (or by serving as legislators themselves).

Attorneys in this field also work in think tanks focused on health policy and bioethics, including the Hastings Center, the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Council on Foreign Relations Global Health Program.

In a typical day, health lawyers in these practice areas may assist clients with mergers of health organizations or advise clients on compliance with federal privacy regulations. They may consult with clients on bioethical issues related to reproductive health or end-of-life treatments. They may help public health departments deal with a range of concerns from teen smoking to quarantines in the face of an epidemic.

They may challenge laws that restrict rights of children with diabetes to self-medicate at school They may work in a medical-legal partnership training and supporting medical, social service and education providers to identify barriers that have a profoundly negative impact on child health and development. They may negotiate vendor agreements and physician contracts for hospitals or help providers obtain reimbursement from health insurance companies. They may litigate malpractice cases, conduct internal investigations into fraud or abuse, or advise clients on the development of new pharmaceuticals and medical devices requiring FDA approval.

Health law, policy and bioethics lawyers benefit from excellent analytical and research skills, strong oral advocacy and negotiating skills, a well-informed understanding of medical issues, and a facility for dealing with complex rules and regulations.

During law school, students can enroll in law school clinical programs that address health and disability law issues. They can help draft health laws for state legislators and can gain valuable experience as externs for organizations such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Students can volunteer for advocacy organizations such as the National Hemophilia Foundation, Equip for Equality and various AIDS foundations. Still others may work as research assistants for law school professors who focus their scholarship on this burgeoning area.

Many of the basic courses in the law school curriculum inform the study of health law and bioethics, such as constitutional law, administrative law and legislation. There are also a variety of specialty areas such as disability law and medical malpractice.

Students who study health law at Chicago-Kent enjoy a wide range of courses and opportunities for practical experience that will enrich their knowledge and can make them more marketable in this competitive field. For instance, the Law Offices of Chicago-Kent houses the Health and Disability Law Clinic, which runs the Vaccine Injury Law Project and handles various disability-related matters.

>> View J.D. courses relating to health law, policy and bioethics.

Chicago-Kent and the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago offer a joint-degree program for students who want to earn both a J.D. and a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degrees. There are externship opportunities with firms that specialize in health law.

Academic Centers and Institutes

Chicago-Kent's Institute for Science, Law and Technology (ISLAT) is devoted to examining the leading edge of science and law and the variety of issues posed by new technologies such as genetic testing. Recent ISLAT research projects include such topics as the propriety of granting gene patents, the ethical implications of nanotechnology, and the creation of guidelines for bio-historical research.

Student Organizations

The Health Law Society provides students at Chicago-Kent with opportunities to learn about the wide variety of work that exists in the field of health law and opportunities to network with professionals already working in the field. The organization serves as a network within Chicago-Kent itself and with other law students around Chicago and the country, and it provides students with opportunities to give back to the community through philanthropic events that benefit people and organizations affiliated with the field of health law.