McGill Research Group on Health and Law

Health Law at McGill (picture of Themis and Hermes)

Ottawa-McGill Graduate Colloquium in Health Law, Policy and Ethics 2023

Co-organized by the University of Ottawa and McGill University, happening both on Zoom and in person in Ottawa on May 4-5, 2023.

Click here to access the interactive poster to download the full program

RGHL Seminar Series: “What happens to people who self-medicate with cannabis after legalization?”

Presented by Dr. Marilou Gagnon, University of Victoria Professor & CISUR scientist, on Monday, March 27 2023 1-2:30 PM EDT, on Zoom with guests welcome in NCDH 102, 3660 Peel Street.

Registration link | Facebook event

In October 2018, Canada became the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize cannabis. The Cannabis Act is a complex statute, described by Bennett and Young (2022)* as “a hybrid criminal and regulatory statute that has some welcome developments, some questionable offences, and borrows heavily from the offences and penalties of the [CDSA] and [TVPA], and in some instances, with harsher penalties” (p. 57). In my work, I seek to understand how this statute and British Columbia’s legislative framework impact people who self-medicate with cannabis. More specifically, I seek to understand how members of this community – a community that has spearheaded cannabis legal reform – experience legalization in various aspects of their lives as they continue to self-medicate with cannabis. Drawing on case law, policy and media analysis, scholarly literature, empirical work, and anecdotal evidence from community members, this presentation will take a closer look at the regulation of space, smoking, access, and health in the context of legalization. It will conclude by raising critical questions and discussing broader implications for public health, policy, and the law.

*Bennett, R. & Young A. (2022). Canada’s Cannabis Act: Annotation & Commentary. LexisNexis

Dr. Marilou Gagnon, RN, ACRN, LLM, PhD is a Professor at the UVic School of Nursing and Scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR). She also holds a casual position as Clinical Nurse Specialist in Urban Health at St. Paul’s Hospital where she supports in-hospital harm reduction policy, research, and practice. Her program of research seeks to address gaps in knowledge that have the potential to inform public debate and policies, while also advancing the rights and the health of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, and people experiencing homelessness. In recognition of her research and scholarship in the field of HIV, she received the 2023 CAHR-CANFAR Excellence in Research Award. She has also received several awards for her contribution to advocacy and activism, including the 2015 Outstanding Advocate Award, 2018 Hero Nurse Award, 2018 Leadership in Political Action Award, and the 2022 Provost Award for Advocacy and Activism. Passionate about media and communications, she has authored dozens of op-eds, completed hundreds of media interviews, and experimented with other modalities including, blogging, podcasting, and radio broadcasting. She is currently completing a Media and Medicine certificate at Harvard Medical School to become a more impactful storyteller and advocate.

"Use of Communication Technologies in Patient Care"

Conference presented as a part of Les après-midis de la justice, co-organized by the Centre de recherche en droit public and the Centre of Genomics and Policy on Tuesday, February 21, 2023 12:30-2 PM EST, NCDH 202, 3660 Peel Street.

Event website link | Link to sign up for Attestation du Barreau du Québec | Zoom link for the event

The use of communication technologies to assist in patient care has increased significantly over the last several years. Communication technologies show great potential in facilitating and possible improving communications between healthcare professionals and institutions and patients. This phenomenon can be seen particularly with increased reliance on telemedicine to improve access to care, driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Dimitri Patrinos (LL.M. candidate, McGill) will discuss the challenges the use of this remote model of health care delivery raises and the medical liability risks surrounding its implementation and use in clinical care. Professor Ma’n H. Zawati will present on the legal, ethical and policy challenges facing mhealth as well as research crowdsourcing apps in the field of genomics. He will discuss consent, confidentiality, and access to data issues. Finally, Professor Lara Khoury will comment on the use of web-based platforms for the public disclosure by healthcare institutions of quality indicators and their impact on healthcare safety and patient autonomy.

RGHL Seminar Series: "Le corps réduit à des données? Le droit face au gouvernement numérique des corps"

Presented by Dr. Yann Favier, law professor at Université Savoie Mont-Blanc, on Wednesday, February 1 2023 1-2:30 PM EST, NCDH 102, 3660 Peel Street.

Registration link | Facebook event

Right now, and I mean this instant, delete every digital trace of any menstrual tracking. Please” (@ginasue, June 24, 2022). Cet appel posté sur twitterdeux jours après l’annulation de la jurisprudence Roe par la Cour suprême des États-Unis par Gina Neff, professeure de sciences de l’information, est un sérieux avertissement sur les dangers de la circulation des données de santé. Présentes partout et pas seulement dans les dossiers médicaux, ces données qui s’invitent jusque dans nos téléphones intelligents, sont achetées et revendues et font l’objet de traitements sophistiqués par l’intelligence artificielle. Devenues indispensables à la recherche médicale et à la santé publique, les données de santé sont aussi de puissants instruments de contrôle des corps dans la vie réelle. Les traiter comme des données personnelles ne permet pas de comprendre ce qui en fait la spécificité ni de répondre aux défis éthiques et juridiques de ce nouveau gouvernement des corps.


Dr. Yann Favier est docteur en droit privé (PhD) et professeur de droit à la Faculté de droit de l’Université Savoie Mont-Blanc (Chambéry-Annecy, France). Spécialiste du droit des personnes et de la famille, il est l’auteur d’un ouvrage critique sur la bioéthique (L’invention de la bioéthique, Berger-Levrault, Paris, 2021). Il s’intéresse depuis quelques années au statut des données de santé dans le cadre d’une recherche exploratoire sur les liens entre la protection du corps humain et les données numériques de santé et étudie l’impact des technologies de l’intelligence artificielle sur les droits de la personne et les activités de recherche médicale.

2023 Annual Lecture: “Tomorrow’s Biolaw: Judicial Plasticity and Digital Complexity?”

Presented by Dr. Bartha Maria Knoppers, full professor, Canadian Research Chair in Law and Medicine, and Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy, on Thursday, January 19, 2023 4:15-5:45PM EST, Moot Court (NCDH Room 100), 3660 Peel Street.

From the Hippocratic oath to the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, and the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, biomedical advances have been filtered through and interpreted against these ethical norms. Moreover, the focus of scientific research has moved beyond individuals, clinical trials, and rare diseases to also include whole populations and communities under the banner of serving group interests and to better understand the evolution and future our human species. Citizens are being asked to contribute to ongoing international mapping of the human genome, to national biobanks and population studies that serve as resources for future unspecified research for others. Indeed, alongside traditional discovery science has emerged a new infrastructure science. Yet, also percolating are bioengineering, gene editing and regenerative medicine efforts that challenge classical legal dualisms and divides such as person-property, animal-human, or living-dead. How plastic is or will be the framing of the “legal” human?

Parallel to the legal challenges raised by this new biology and infrastructure science are those of information technologies and their ensuing probabilistic, digital complexity. Stratification based on population data may well serve to ensure targeted resource allocation and thus rescue the ongoing sustainability of our universal health care systems, but currently, the use of polygenic risk scores may be misleading. Moreover, treatments, drugs and devices premised on databases that are not representative of different ancestries and of human diversity are equally harmful. Contribution by all citizens to variant databases is essential to their use in diagnoses and interpretation but where and on whom does the responsibility to contribute one’s health data to ensure quality and safety lie? Quid, the algorithms that feed m-health and medical devices? Finally, clinical genomic testing is already in use in the health care setting in some countries but raises the issue of potential duties to family members and data privacy and confidentiality. Data may be the new prevention, the new treatment, but can we accept its dynamic, complex and “epigenetic” nature?

Dr. Bartha Maria Knoppers, PhD (Comparative Medical Law) is Full Professor, Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine, Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University. She was the Chair of the Ethics and Governance Committee of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (2009-2017) and Co-Chair of the Regulatory and Ethics Workstream of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (2013-2019). She also helped draft the OECD Recommendation on Health Data Governance (2017), was appointed to the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing (2020), and currently co-chairs the Ethics Working Group of the Human Cell Atlas (2018-2022). She holds four Doctorates Honoris Causa and is a Fellow of the AAAS, the Hastings Center of Bioethics, the Canadian Academy Health Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and of Quebec, and recipient of the Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research (2019), the Till and McCulloch Award for Science Policy (2020) and the Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Bioethics Society (2021).

RGHL Seminar Series: "Regulating Cannabis for Public Good: Is 'Public Ownership' Model the Answer?"

Presented by Dr. Marta Rychert, University of Massey, New Zealand, on November 7 2022 13h-14h30 EST, on Zoom

Poster for Dr. Rychert's seminar presentation. The poster has an image of Dr. Rychert, the title of her talk, and the date and time of her seminar.

Dr. Marta Rychert shared her research with the RGHL on various approaches to legalising cannabis. The legalisation of cannabis on the American continent has reinvigorated calls for cannabis law reform in many countries. Non-commercial models for cannabis law reform, such as cannabis social clubs, not-for-profit community ‘trusts’ and government monopolies, may offer a buffer against industry marketing and commercialisation. To date, few jurisdictions have implemented these ‘middle ground’ models in practice, instead favouring familiar alcohol-style for-profit legalisation. This presentation will outline a framework for understanding cannabis law reform options between decriminalisation and commercial markets, with particular focus on ‘public ownership’ models for legal cannabis sale. The benefits and costs of the ‘public ownership’ model will be presented, drawing on empirical research with key policy stakeholders involved in implementing government-run retail stores for cannabis (Société québécoise du cannabis) in Quebec (Canada), ‘community licensing trusts’ for alcohol in New Zealand and experience with cannabis social clubs in a number of countries. Particular attention will be paid to formal and informal governance mechanisms and regulatory protections around price, retail, and product control under ‘public ownership’ models.


Dr. Marta Rychert is a Senior Research Officer in College of Health, Massey University, New Zealand. Her academic work lies at the intersection of public health, policy and law, with particular focus on legal aspects of regulating drugs, cannabis law reform, as well as discipline and regulation of health workforce. Her research analyses socio-legal and policy challenges in drug law reform, with a view to informing effective design of public health regulations that capture the benefits of reform while avoiding the negative effects of large-scale commercial markets. Dr Rychert has published over 60 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and acted as an advisor to health and drug government agencies in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. She is the co-Editor-in-Chief of “Drugs, Habits, and Social Policy”, an international drug policy journal publishing critical drug scholarship. Prior to her academic appointments in New Zealand, she worked in the EU Drugs Agency in Portugal.

Health as a social and academic priority

Health issues are at the forefront of modern social preoccupations in Canada. McGill’s Faculty of Law offers an array of opportunities for those who seek to explore these issues through academic study and research.

Public health, aging, health and the environment, biotechnologies, global health, the growing prevalence of obesity and other chronic health conditions and illnesses, HIV/AIDS and the spread of infectious diseases, access to health care institutions and technology, the governance of health care institutions, human rights and health, clinical research and the protection of human research subjects, social diversity and health, and Aboriginal health exemplify topics of preeminence in the minds of Canadians that McGill’s Faculty of Law has also identified as priorities.

A tradition

McGill’s Faculty of Law has a strong tradition in health law. Emeritus Professor Paul-André Crépeau (1975-1994) published a seminal work titled La responsabilité civile du médecin et de l'établissement hospitalier in 1956, which contributed in a major way to the development of Medical Law in Quebec. It houses the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, founded in 1986, whose founding director, Margaret A. Somerville, was a prominent scholar in Bioethics. The Crépeau Centre for Private & Comparative Law, founded in 1975, also demonstrates the Faculty’s commitment to health law through, inter alia, the work of Me Pierre Deschamps C.M., Project Director - Medical Law and the Ethics of Research and Organisations.

Teaching and research in health law

McGill University and its Faculty of Law offer an exceptional and unique space for transsystemic, comparative and pluridisciplinary pedagogy and scholarship on health law matters. A number of courses that address health law and policy questions are offered to our undergraduate and graduate students. Several colleagues also act as supervisors to graduate students working on projects that deal with issues of health and medical law.

Health research initiatives underway at McGill’s Faculty of Law investigate diverse themes of pressing importance within both academic and societal realms. The Law Faculty is also host to various research centres which oversee work bearing a direct impact on health issues. In recognition of the growing importance of this discipline, the McGill Research Group on Health and Law was formed with a view to advancing health law research within the Faculty of Law.

Vibrant student initiatives

Students at McGill Law are also at the core of the Faculty’s commitment to teaching and research in the area of health law. The Faculty-wide enthusiasm for health law studies is demonstrated by student initiatives such as the McGill Journal of Law and Health.

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