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Postgradaute Ethics of Cancer and Palliative Care

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  • Objectives
    The course aims to deepen your understanding of the philosophical basis of good practice, and to enhance your ability to think systematically about the ethically challenging decisions that you may face in the course of your work. If you successfully complete the MA and wish to continue your studies in this area, you may apply to proceed to a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics (DMedEth), which combines taught modules with the production of a doctoral level thesis.
  • Entry requirements
    Applicants should have either a degree in a relevant subject, or appropriate professional qualifications and experience. Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in the ethical issues that arise in cancer care and/or palliative care, such as doctors, nurses, chaplains, social workers, occupational therapists, radiographers, charity workers and volunteers, healthcare managers, hospice directors, and healthcare educators.
  • Academic Title
    MA, Postgraduate Diploma Ethics of Cancer and Palliative Care
  • Course description
    Full-Time & Part-Time study


    This part-time course is presented jointly by Keele University’s Centre for Professional Ethics, and the Marie Curie Hospice in Liverpool. It is designed for health care professionals and those working in fields or having an interest related to cancer and/or palliative care. Major advances in medical technology, increased expectations, and changing moral attitudes have combined to create many complex ethical and legal problems in these areas. Individuals who care for patients with life-threatening illnesses can face particularly pressing and difficult moral choices. This course provides them with an opportunity to gain a deeper and more systematic understanding of these issues, and to explore the moral problems they may face in their work. It is specially structured so that it can be taken alongside full-time employment.

    The course is taught by lecturers from the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University, and by palliative care specialists from the Marie Curie Hospice and invited guest speakers. From time to time, lecturers from Keele’s Department of Law may also provide specialist input. This is an exciting joint venture uniting academic and practical expertise.

    The Ethics of Cancer and Palliative Care teaching team have many years’ experience of teaching this and other postgraduate programmes. We are therefore very aware of the special problems and challenges which can face those combining study with full-time work, and do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning. A recent report from the Quality Assurance Agency awarded the Centre for Professional Ethics the highest possible mark of 24 for its teaching programmes.

    The report described the MA course as “highly innovative” and “professionally relevant [with] immediate practical application”, and praised the course’s“diverse student profile” as a key strength, which “enriches the learning experience”. We are also pleased to see that some of our students’ work has been published in professional journals and edited collections.

    Course Structure and Content

    This is a part-time course which is specifically designed so that it can be taken by those who are in full-time employment. Masters courses require the successful completion of 180 M level credits: 120 credits through taught modules, and 60 credits for the dissertation of 15,000-20,000 words.

    Year one consists of four taught modules worth 30 credits each.

    Each of these modules is taught in a single intensive three-day teaching block. The first of these blocks is normally in January, with subsequent blocks spread throughout the academic year. Teaching takes place at the Marie Curie Hospice in Liverpool.

    In year two, students go on to research and write a dissertation to obtain the award of Master of Arts (MA). There are no specific attendance requirements at all during the second year – you may either meet with your supervisor at mutually convenient times, or keep in touch by phone or email, or use a combination of methods. If you successfully complete the taught modules, but do not wish to write a dissertation, you will receive a Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip).

    We believe that high levels of student participation in discussion are particularly important for teaching and learning in this area, and use teaching techniques which encourage this wherever possible. You will also be allocated a personal supervisor, to advise and assist you with your studies.

    Course Modules

    Module 1: Ethics and Palliative Care – In this block, you are introduced to the main concepts and theories used in healthcare ethics. This is done in a number of ways that bring out their connection with issues of practical concern in cancer and palliative care. Additionally, Module 1normally contains topics such as: the shift from curative to palliative care; the context of care (e.g. hospital, hospice, home); the relationship between ethical and clinical considerations.

    Module 2: Autonomy, Paternalism and Consent – Module 2 addresses issues within cancer and palliative care which relate to respect for the autonomy of patients and carers. Important topics normally include: truth-telling; confidentiality; decision-making for the seriously ill patient; informed consent; consent and the law; paternalism; the nature and the role of hope in palliative care; advance statements about treatment (‘living wills’).

    Module 3: Quality of Life, Death, and Dying – This module focuses on end-of-life issues and normally includes seminars on defining death; the significance of death; the sanctity and value of life; the idea of ‘quality of life’; withdrawing and withholding life-prolonging treatment; ethical and legal issues in euthanasia.

    Module 4: Contemporary Issues in the Ethics of Cancer and Palliative Care – The content of this module varies from year to year to reflect current issues of particular concern in the field. In recent years, it has included seminars on resource allocation; research ethics; special issues relating to the care of children; screening programmes; the role of religious belief in ethical debate; differing conceptions of palliative care.


    Each of the taught modules is assessed by an assignment of up to 4,000 words. If you successfully complete the taught modules, you may apply to progress to the MA stage, which involves researching and writing a dissertation of 15,000-20,000 words on an approved topic.

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