Main Content


Medical Law examines how medical concepts and practices interact with and are mutually affected by legal concepts and practices. In its mostly descriptive function, medical law lays out the current legal requirements for physicians’ responsibilities, patients’ rights, rules about privacy, rules governing malpractice and medical liability, and constitutional rulings on major issues such as abortion, health care access, refusal of treatment, and euthanasia.

In its jurisprudential function, legal medicine is directed at the application of medicine and science to informing legal questions, such as inquests, mental capacity and competence, DNA identification, forensic pathology, lie detection, paternity, and serving as expert witnesses.

In its interpretive function, medicolegal research involves analysis and argument to determine how legal precedents and principles apply to new medical situations and how new medical technologies affect legal action. Notable issues here include determining death (brain death), liability (machine learning diagnosis, robotic surgery), parental rights (reproductive technology), prognosis and behavior prediction (neuro-imaging), validity of contracts (psychiatric medication), and what even counts as medicine (alternative medicine, enhancement v. treatment).

In its prescriptive function, medical law and ethics (directly related to medical philosophy and ethics) examines and argues for what laws should and should not cover, including public policies about medical treatment, abortion and euthanasia, genetic testing, health care rights, privacy and confidentiality, vaccinations, and health-related economic policy.

  • Education: Training health care professionals in duties, regulations, constitutional cases, standards of liability
  • Research: Examining how new technologies of automated medicine, machine learning, nonbiological computerized simulation drug research, and reproductive technologies fit within existing legal systems (if at all)
  • Clinical: Intervening in children’s refusal of treatment cases, clarifying liability risks of specific treatments