Centre for Health Law, Science and Policy

Image of a stethoscope and a gavel promoting our LLM Health, Bioethics and Law

The Centre for Health Law, Science and Policy is an interdisciplinary Centre based at the Law School at the University of Birmingham. We aim to foster dialogue and world-leading research and teaching in the area of Health Law. Our members include leading scholars from within the Law School and from across the University of Birmingham working in a range of disciplines, such as Global Ethics, Medicine and Sociology. 

Our research interests traverse diverse boundaries, both across campus and within the health law discipline itself. Our academics explore a range of research issues. Our research incorporates theoretical explorations of philosophical bioethics and legal philosophy to more applied research in topics as diverse as bodily integrity, medical migration, mental health, the legal regulation of complementary and alternative medicine, perfectionism, the regulation of reproduction, and decision making at the end of life.

Health Law at Birmingham Law School is an active interdisciplinary research area and the School has a wide range of health law related modules on both the School’s LLB and LLM programmes. As a Centre we also strive to create as many spaces as possible for the exchange of ideas and academic debate. The Centre runs a seminar series, a ‘brown bag lunch’ programme, and a PhD Reading Group that provides an opportunity for our growing and engaged postgraduate community to present work in an informal setting.

Our group members present at national and international conferences and publish on both domestic and global platforms. The the depth of impact our research has beyond the Law School is evidenced by the fact that members of the Centre advise and assist a vast range of policy-makers including the Department of Health, UK Biobank, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, and the Home Office. 

The following are details of the various research themes evident in the Centre. Themes have been listed alphabetically.

End of Life Decision-Making

End of life decision making is the primary focus for several of Dr Stephen Smith’s leading medico-ethical articles and is further featured in his recently completed monograph: End of Life, Principles and Policies for the Dying Process, a major exploration of the bioethical and legal ramifications of end of life decisions. Furthermore he has presented his research at seminars across a wide range of jurisdictions, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Smith’s work was recently cited by the Court of Appeal in Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v James & Ors [2013] EWCA Civ 65 (01 March 2013).

Legal Epidemiology

Dr Claire McIvor is leading a new and excited research theme within the Centre on the use of scientific evidence in court cases. Specifically, Dr McIvor’s work focuses upon the legal applications of Epidemiology and she is currently engaged in a collaborative and interdisciplinary venture with Professor Maurice Zeegers. Together they are looking at the potential benefits of using epidemiological evidence in personal injury litigation.

Dr McIvor has recently been granted an Arts and Humanities Research Council networking grant to facilitate further research in this area. The main objectives of the ‘Legal Epidemiology’ network will be: (i) to facilitate collaborations between lawyers and epidemiologists; (ii) to share information with relevant stakeholders about the benefits of using  epidemiological evidence in legal contexts; and (iii) to promote academic research into the (mis)use of epidemiological data in court.

Medical Migration

‘Medical Migration’ describes travel outside of one’s home jurisdiction to access medical services elsewhere. Reasons for it range from expense, to pleasure, to accessing expertise. Professor Jean McHale and Dr Sheelagh McGuinness have embarked on a research project in this area that examines the legal mechanism necessary to regulate this movement and activities. This project is a substantial amount of the work that Dr McGuinness is due to carry out in her time as a Birmingham Fellow.

Professor McHale has co-authored the key text on the impact of supra-national legislation on delivery and accessing health care services within the European Union; Health Law and the European Union (Cambridge University Press; 2004).

Both Professor McHale and Dr McGuinness have recently been invited to be involved with a working group convened by the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group exploring the subject of ‘organ tourism’.

In 2014 Dr  McGuinness will spend four months as a visiting scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown University, Washington DC. While there she will carry out research on the importance of international trade law in facilitating and hindering medical migration.

Mental Health and Mental Capacity

Mental health law is a thread which binds the work of several of our academics. Dr Leon McRae explores the legal and therapeutic consequences of treating offenders with anti-social personality disorder.

Dr Rosie Harding’s research analyses the issues surrounding treatment of and care for people living with dementia. Furthermore she has held the role of principal investigator on of funded research projects in this field and leads an international AHRC research network on ‘ReValuing Care’.

Professor Jean McHale has written on the regulation of standards in mental health care and research with particular regard for individuals lacking mental capacity.

Professor Marie Fox, in conjunction with Dr. Nicola Barker of the University of Kent, is currently researching capacity and how it is defined through the question of feminist analyses.

A combined venture on perfectionism is underway between Birmingham School of Philosophy (Professor Heather Widdows) and Birmingham Law School (Professor Jean McHale).

Regulating the Human and non-human Animal Body

Regulation of both the non and non-human animal body raises questions that are socially, legally, politically, ethically complex and many of our Centre members work in this area.

In her research Professor Marie Fox has explored these questions in a range of contexts including the social and legal construction of human and animal bodies, xenotransplantation, biotechnologies, and the examination of various forms of genital cutting. Professor Fox’s research is grounded in a largely socio-legal medthodolgy and she was awarded the Society for Socio-Legal Studies 2013 article prize for a piece she co-authored entitled ‘The new politics of male circumcision: HIV/AIDS, health law and social justice’ (2012) Legal Studies 32(2): 255–81.

Professor Jean McHale has also published widely on the regulation of human biological materials; particularly organ transplantation and biobanks. Adopting a more doctrinal approach Prof. McHale focuses on the legal and regulatory structures that facilitate both health care delivery and medical research.

Dr Sheelagh McGuinness’s research in this area also adopts a socio-legal approach although one strongly influenced by ethical and moral issues. She has researched and published on the legal construction of the embryo, organ donation, reproductive choice and disability, and biobanking. A key Centre publication in area of regulating human and non-human animal bodies is The Medical, Legal and Cultural Regulation of the Body: Transformation and Transgression (Ashgate; 2009) which was co-edited by Dr Stephen Smith.

Regulation of Heath and Allied Professions

Questions of how best to regulate health and allied professional increasingly dominate media debate. Within the Centre this is also a theme that is subject to consideration and examination. Primarily, Professor Jean McHale is involved in a collaborative project with Dr Nicola Gale on the legal regulation of complementary and alternative medicine.

Professor McHale has also published widely on regulation of the nursing profession, including co-authoring a textbook Law and Nursing (Butterworths; 2007).

Dr Sheelagh McGuinness is a member of the medical ethics committee of the Royal College of General Practitioners and has carried out research on the role of conscientious objection in clinical practice.


Reproduction is a prominent theme in the research and activities of Centre members.

The Centre is the home of the ‘Reproductive Justice’ network that was recently created by Dr Sheelagh McGuinness. The network is a collective of academics, activists, and providers who gathered together at a Wellcome funded workshop held at the University of Birmingham in March 2013. If you wish to hear more about the network the twitter handle is @ReproJusticeUK and the email address is reproductivejustice@bham.ac.uk.

Dr McGuinness has published in the area of law and reproduction on topics including transgender pregnancy, abortion, and the regulation of assisted reproduction. Professor Marie Fox has also carried out much research in this area. She has critiqued the regulation of abortion in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. She has also published on the regulation of assisted reproductive technologies. Dr Stephen Smith has examined the importance of several ethical concepts in regulation in this area, specifically moral worth and moral status.