Ethics and Justice in Translational Science


Conceptual and theoretical approaches to ethical issues in translational health sciences

This module will examine conceptual and theoretical approaches to broad ethical issues (including social and political contexts) in translational health sciences. We will introduce you to key traditions of thought and methodologies in ethics and applied philosophy. You will be encouraged to view research and health science in relation to the nature of society, its values and its institutions. Our focus will be on the practical application and integration of ethical principles to research and policy challenges. 

The module will consist of a number of themes and topics, each of which will be explored using cases and real-world examples relevant to translational health science. For example:

  • Methodologies in ethics: normative conceptual analysis and empirical ethics

  • Research ethics and governance: managing research in society

  • Data use and data sharing: access, benefit and common purpose

  • Health, justice and the social: managing health inequalities and justice

  • Health technologies, hypes and hopes: the ethics and culture of science

These topics will develop your competence in pursuing careful reflection, conceptual clarity and coherent argumentation in the practical context of translational health science.

Course Aims

 On completion of this module we expect our students to be able to: 

  • Ethically interrogate the practical and policy context of translational science, especially in relation to implementation of research findings at individual or organisational level

  • Describe and critically engage with the rationale for governance in research generally, the social science of science and knowledge translation

  • Critically evaluate the ethics of specific research studies by addressing relevant concerns including privacy and confidentiality, models of informed consent, risks and benefits to participants, and methodology specifically in relation to translational health science research

  • Critically explore concepts and theories of justice with particular attention to their application to health inequalities, resource allocation, and their relationship to social determinants

  • Critically explore the role of values, beliefs, expectations, culture and politics in science with particular attention to the way in which they influence translational health science

Research methods and techniques taught in this module:

  • Conceptual analysis, argumentation (the methods of philosophical and theological ethics – constructing arguments, criticising arguments)

  • Empirical ethics (the intersection of normative and empirical methodologies, bringing arguments about philosophical principles together with social science methodologies)

  • Application of the above to the study of translational science

Examples of case studies to be discussed in this module:

  • Research ethics and governance: the UK National Research Ethics Service ethics review process

  • Big data and data use: the NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative

  • Personalised/precision medicine: US Precision Medicine Initiative/100K Genomes Project

  • Justice and health inequalities: NICE’s Citizens’ Council and ‘Social value judgements’

Programme details

The first weeks of this module is spent working on introductory activities using a Virtual Learning Environment, a week is then spent in Oxford for face-to-face teaching and group work (this takes place on the dates to be confirmed), there are then a series of extended Post-Oxford activities (delivered through the VLE) over the following 4-6 weeks which are designed to support you in the preparation and delivery of the practical elements of your assignment. You will be required to submit your written assignment electronically (usually on a Tuesday at 14:00 UK Local Time).


Students enrolled on MSc in Translational Health Sciences: £2000.00 from 2020/21. Short Course in Health Sciences: tbc


Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our financial assistance page.


Professor Joshua Hordern

Professor Joshua Hordern is a Lecturer in Theology at Jesus College and Associate Professor of Christian Ethics in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford.

Dr Mark Sheehan

Dr Mark Sheehan is Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Ethics Fellow at the Ethox Centre and a James Martin Research Fellow in the Institute for Science and Ethics.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be based on performance in a group presentation and submission of a written assignment which should not exceed 4,000 words.


This course is part of the MSc in Translational Health Sciences.  Applications for this course can be made via the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website.  This website includes further information about this course and a guide to applying

This course will also be open to students to take as an accredited short course in health sciences.  Please contact to register your interest in the course. 

Academic Credit

Applicants may take this course for academic credit. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for this course. Participants attending at least 80% of the taught course and successfully completing assessed assignments are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 20 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.

Applicants can choose not to take the course for academic credit and will therefore not be eligible to undertake the academic assignment offered to students taking the course for credit. Applicants cannot receive CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme) points or equivalence. Credit cannot be attributed retrospectively. CATS accreditation is required if you wish for the course to count towards a further qualification in the future.

A Certificate of Completion is issued at the end of the course.

Applicants registered to attend ‘not for credit’ who subsequently wish to register for academic credit and complete the assignment are required to submit additional information, which must be received one calendar month in advance of the course start date. Please contact us for more details.

Please contact if you have any questions.



Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality In Tourism scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme.

IT requirements

Please ensure that you have access to a computer that meets the specifications detailed on our technical support page.