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McGill Research Group on Health and Law

Health Law at McGill (picture of Themis and Hermes)

Harm reduction and morally controversial behaviours: New legal and policy approaches to drug use, sex work, and physician-assisted dying

Monday, 23 March, 12h-14h, NCDH 316

Le Groupe de recherche en santé et droit de McGill (RGHL) vous convie à sa dernière conférence de l'année universitaire, laquelle sera présentée par ses membres, la professeure Alana Klein et le professeur Daniel Weinstock.

The speakers will consider the growing tendency among public actors to reframe what were once considered morally controversial questions in terms of the reduction of harm.

Drawing on the examples of contemporary debates and legal developments around drug use sex work, and physician assisted dying, this workshop will consider the potential benefits, risks and consequences of engaging with controversial issues through the logic and lens of harm reduction.

For example, it will consider what motivates this type of framing, whether it can help achieve overlapping consensus around these fractious issues, as well as the moral limits of the use of this kind of reasoning in political and legal deliberation.

Le nombre de place est limité et un léger déjeuner sera servi: nous vous prions donc de confirmer votre présence en écrivant à rghl [dot] law [at] mcgill [dot] ca.


Rethinking the Revolving Door: Mental Health Courts in Canada and the US

Wednesday, 11 March, 16h15-18h15, Maxwell Cohen Moot Court (NCDH 100)

The McGill Journal of Law and Health, Team VISEV, the McGill Institute of Health and Social Policy and the McGill Research Group on Health and Law are pleased to invite you to Rethinking the Revolving Door: Mental Health Courts in Canada and the US, an interdisciplinary panel with Dr. Virginia Aldigé Hiday (North Carolina State University) and Mr. Joe Wright (Ontario Review Board).

What outcomes have mental health courts generated for people with a mental illness and for the community? Gathering specialists from the legal, sociology and psychiatry fields, this panel considers the promises and shortfalls of mental health courts in Canada and the United States. The panel will be moderated by Professor Anne Crocker (Dept of psychiatry, McGill) and Professor Alana Klein (Faculty of Law, McGill).

Kindly RSVP by emailing rghl [dot] law [at] mcgill [dot] ca.

The Panelists

Joe R. Wright
Mr. Wright is currently legal counsel to the Ontario Review Board. A graduate of Queen’s University Faculty of Law, he has been a member of Legal Aid Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health Law, and also a member of the Toronto Forensic Mental Health Committee. From its inception in 1998, until 2004, he served as Mental Health Duty Counsel to Canada’s only full time dedicated mental health court, Old City Hall’s ‘102 Court’. He was responsible there for all aspects of representing accused persons, from determination of fitness to stand trial and assessment of criminal responsibility to conducting fitness hearings, bail hearings, guilty pleas and diversion of charges.

Virginia Alidé Hiday
Distinguished Professor of sociology at the North Carolina State University, Dr. Alidgé Hiday conducts studies in law and psychiatry, particularly outpatient civil commitment, mental health courts and violence, victimization and criminalization among persons with mental illness.

How Law Facilitated Pharmaceutical Fraud and How It Could Save Us

Wednesday, February 25, 16h-18h, Maxwell-Cohen Moot Court (NCDH 100)

Le Groupe de recherche en santé et droit a l'honneur de vous inviter à sa Conférence 2015 sur la santé et le droit, laquelle sera prononcée cette année par le professeur Trudo Lemmens, titulaire de la Chaire Scholl en droit et politique de la santé à l'Université de Toronto.


Since Thalidomide, the legal regime introduced to improve pharmaceutical product safety and efficacy has generated new administrative, industrial and scientific practices.  These practices, in combination with a host of social, cultural and scientific developments, including the emphasis on evidence-based medicine, have strengthened industry’s grip over pharmaceutical knowledge production. Statutory law and regulation have thereby facilitated fraud and misrepresentation, while industry’s growing control over scientific knowledge has also undermined the integrity of traditional tort mechanisms that could offer compensation to those affected by these practices.

Professor Lemmens will discuss these developments and briefly explore the strength and limits of some legal tools aimed at curbing this trend, paying particular attention to recent legal skirmishes related to transparency and access to data. Considering the central role of scientific knowledge and the impact of health care products on physical and mental integrity, he will argue that states have a human rights obligation to strengthen independent scientific knowledge production.

A request for accreditation as a continuing legal education activity has been made to the Barreau du Québec.

Kindly RSVP to rghl [dot] law [at] mcgill [dot] ca.

Population Biobanking, Autonomy and the Duty to Inform: Streamlining Access to Data while Protecting Participants

February 2, 2015, 12h30-14h00, NCDH 316

Ma’n H. Zawati, Academic Coordinator at the McGill Centre of Genomics and Policy and DCL candidate at the Faculty of Law, gave the second annual Seminar on Health and Law. 


In research, Canadian courts have maintained that participants are entitled to a "full and frank disclosure" and that researchers' duties in that regard are as great, if not greater, than the duties owed by physicians in the clinical setting. That being said, the increasingly longitudinal and international nature of research challenges the feasibility of maintaining such an expansive duty to inform.

Take population biobanks as an example. These longitudinal studies are limited in terms of what information they can provide to research participants during the initial consent process.

On the one hand, they are increasingly encouraged to provide access to their collections, but on the other hand, they are unable to provide participants with “full disclosure” on the future use of their data at the time of recruitment.

By re-examining conceptions at the heart of the legal duty to inform, this presentation will discuss ways in which population biobanks can continue to streamline access to data while protecting research participants.


Ma’n H. Zawati (LL.B., LL.M.) is a lawyer and the Academic Coordinator of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University. He is currently completing his Doctoral degree in law (D.C.L.) at McGill University and is the Graduate Member of the McGill Research Group on Health and Law. Me Zawati is also an Associate Member of the University’s Biomedical Ethics Unit since 2013. His research focuses on the legal and ethical aspects of biobanking as well as the legal duties and liability of health care professionals in both the clinical and research settings. He has published numerous articles on issues such as access to genomic databases, the return of research results/incidental findings, the legal liability of physicians and the closure of biobanks. Me Zawati has also presented on these topics in Canada and internationally. Recently, the Young Bar Association of Montreal has named him as one of its “Lawyer of the Year” awardees for 2014.

Première édition des Rencontres en droit de la santé

Les 28 et 29 novembres 2014 se déroulait aux Facultés de droit des Université McGill de Montréal, en collaboration avec la Faculté de droit de l’Université de Sherbrooke, le Groupe de recherche en santé et droit de McGill, le Regroupement stratégique Droit et changements et la Chaire de recherche du Canada sur la culture collaborative en droit et politiques de la santé, la première édition des Rencontres en droit de la santé sous le thème Les grands conflits en droit de la santé.

Cette rencontre regroupait des professeurs et praticiens (avocats, professionnels de la santé et décideurs publics), ainsi que des chercheurs de la France et de la Suisse dans le but d’échanger de manière approfondie sur la thématique.

Quelques défis de l’intégration des médecines non conventionnelles dans un système de soins cartésien

27 novembre 2014, 12h00-13h30, salle 316, Nouveau Pavillon Chancellor-Day

Venez assister à une conférence du Groupe de recherche en Santé et Droit avec le Professeur Olivier Guillod, Directeur de l’Institut de droit de la santé, Université de Neuchâtel, Suisse.

Un léger déjeuner sera servi à midi et la conférence débutera 15 minutes après. Le nombre de places est limité: merci de confirmer votre présence: rghl [dot] law [at] mcgill [dot] ca. La conférence sera en français.


Dans les pays occidentaux, la population demande, et utilise, de plus en plus de diverses médecines dites non conventionnelles. Les uns y voient une ouverture bienvenue vers d’autres approches à la santé humaine. Les autres craignent un retour de l’obscurantisme.

Les juristes sont interpelés : quelle place aménager dans l’ordre juridique pour les médecines non conventionnelles ? Faut-il règlementer leur pratique ? Faut-il les rembourser par la sécurité sociale ?

Ces questions, et d’autres, seront explorées à partir de l’exemple de la Suisse, seul pays européen à avoir un article de sa Constitution consacré à ces médecines.


Past events

Moralism and Long Game Healthism in Public Health Ethics

September 11, 2014, 14:00-15:30, Institute for Health and Social Policy seminar room

Join us for a talk by John Coggon, Professor of Law and the Philosophy of Public Health, University of Southampton.

Building on evidence concerning the social determinants of health, a growing body of works within public health ethics has developed that sees sound health policy as being founded on concepts of social justice. However, there are scholars who deny the validity of theories that recommend the redistribution of resources with the aim of improving population health. Such protagonists advance arguments on empirical, theoretical, and normative grounds. Within public and political arenas, furthermore, we can observe a dominant position given to individual liberty, and a resistance to coercive policies, which are viewed as ‘nanny-statism’.

In parallel with the apparently irresolvable ideological debates, therefore, we find putative middle-way approaches to health policy, such as ‘nudge’. These are given as a theoretically and ethically robust—and practically realisable—means of achieving better health, without offending apparent side-constraints on what constitutes legitimate government activity.

With a focus on strategy and practical developments in relation to tobacco regulation, this paper explores political morality in long game health policies. It compares, and draws parallels between, debates on legal moralism and health promotion, and questions why concerns about moralism seem less acute when a goal—say eradication of smoking—is aimed to be achieved over decades, rather than through near-term prohibition. See poster.

Organized by the Institute for Health and Social Policy, and co-sponsored by the Montreal Health Equity Research Consortium and the Research Group in Health Law.

Location: IHSP seminar room, Charles Meredith House, 1130 Pine Avenue West, Montreal

RSVP/Queries to jurgen [dot] dewispelaere [at] mcgill [dot] ca

Venue is wheelchair accessible.

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, is 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.