Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions


Ethical Issues in Health Research

Module titleEthical Issues in Health Research
Module codeCSC2017
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Dr Siobhan O'Dwyer (Convenor)

Dr Jenny Lloyd (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Some of the most ground-breaking research in the history of human health has also been some of the most unethical. Research that has led to breakthroughs in psychology, cancer, polio, cloning, and extreme medicine, just to name a few, would not be allowed to be conducted today.

This module will introduce you to key ethical issues in health research. Through a mix of lectures and structured small group learning (SSGL), you will be introduced to essential ethical concepts in human health research, including consent, confidentiality, deception, and coercion; consider the influence of publication bias, reimbursement for research participants, and the involvement of Big Pharma and the Military in health research; explore the challenges of conducting research with vulnerable populations; and investigate ethics in the age of social media. Key examples – including Henrietta Lacks, the Stanford Prison Experiment, Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, professional guinea pigs, and the Dachau Hypothermia Experiments – will be used to prompt your learning.

If you are a student on the Medical Sciences Programme, this module can be taken with Introduction to Health Research to complete the Health Research pathway requirements for Year 2, or taken on its own as part of an interdisciplinary pathway.

This module is also open to students in Psychology and Sport & Health Sciences and will suit students who are interested in working in health research or engaging with research in their clinical practice.


Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to advance students’ understanding of ethical issues in health research and promote awareness of the challenges of conducting health research that is both ethical and innovative. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an integrated understanding of the ethical principles that underpin contemporary human health research
  • 2. Identify and interpret ethical guidelines for human health research in the UK and internationally
  • 3. Explain the role of university and hospital ethics committees
  • 4. Use an ethical framework to critically examine proposed and previous research studies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Understand the importance of conducting ethically sound human health research
  • 6. Debate the contribution of unethical research to global improvements in human health

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Direct own learning
  • 8. Manage time, workload, and ambiguity effectively.
  • 9. Critically reflect on own values and ethical perspective
  • 10. Work well in teams
  • 11. Communicate clearly and efficiently in both written and oral formats

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, an example of an overall structure is as follows:

Lecture Topics:

  • What are ethics and why do we need them
  • Ethical guidelines for health research
  • The role of research ethics committees
  • Human vs animal ethics


SSGLs Topics

  • Consent and confidentiality
  • Deception and coercion
  • Vulnerable populations
  • Adverse events and fake data
  • Ethics in the age of social media
  • Mock Ethics Committee

For the 2021/2022 academic year, this module will be delivered in a blended format. Some sessions will be delivered face-to-face (COVID restrictions permitting) and others will be delivered synchronously online via Teams.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activities8Lectures (4 weeks x 2hr lecture per week).
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activities15SSGL sessions (6 weeks x 2.5 hour workshop per week).
Guided Independent study65Preparation for Lectures & SSGLs
Guided Independent Study62Assessment preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Completion of SSGL Tasks Throughout the module1,4-11Verbal feedback within session
Participation in SSGLThroughout module 4-7, 9-11Verbal feedback within session

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer question (SAQ) In-Class Test301 hour1,2,4-5,7-8,11Summary written feedback to whole group
Contribution to class Resources Portfolio10Minimum of two contributions to the Resources Portfolio in each relevant week.1,2,4,7-11Summary oral feedback to the whole group
Ethical Case Studies601500 words (3 ethical case studies; 500 word response to each) 1,3-9,11Individual written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Short answer question (SAQ) In-Class Test (30 %)Short answer question exam (1 hour)1,2,4-5,7-8,11Ref/Def period
Portfolio of Resources (10%)Portfolio of resources, with a minimum of two resources for each relevant week. 1,2,4,7-11Ref/Def period
Ethical Case Studies (60%)Ethical case studies (1500 words)1,3-9,11Ref/Def period

Re-assessment notes

Please also refer to the TQA section on Referral/Deferral:


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Long, T. & Johnson, M. (2007). Research ethics in the real world: Issues and solutions for health and social care. Elsevier: Edinburgh.

Skloot, R. (2011). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books: USA.

Berger, R.L. (1990). Nazi Science – The Dachau Hypothermia Experiments. The New England Journal of Medicine, 322, 1435-1440.


Students will be expected to read and critically appraise a range of peer-reviewed journals and online documents related to the content of this module.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources will be available 

Key words search

Health Research; Ethics; Clinical Trials; Psychology; History; Medicine; Health Sciences; Design; Measurement; Evaluation; Recruitment; Publication; 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date