Public Health Ethics

Academic Study Board of Public Health

Teaching language: English
EKA: S550016302, S550016312
Censorship: Second examiner: Internal, Second examiner: None
Grading: 7-point grading scale, Pass/Fail
Offered in: Esbjerg
Offered in: Autumn
Level: Master

Course ID: S550016301
ECTS value: 4

Date of Approval: 26-03-2019

Duration: 1 quarter

Course Title

Public Health Ethics

Course Responsible

Name Email Department
Subash Thapa


Name Email Department City
Maria Palianopoulou
Subash Thapa

Course secretary

Name Email Department City
Janne Krogh
Sabine M. Talbot

Aim and overall content

This module introduces the knowledge basis and central ethical challenges of public health research, practice and policy development and implementation. The module gives the student the ability to identify, analyze, argue and apply critical reflection on central public health challenges in different contexts.

Mandatory prerequisites


Relationship between the learning objectives, type of teaching and type of examination

At the end of the module, the student should:

  • have the basic knowledge of the ethical theories and their application to public health
  • have relevant skills to identify and analyze central ethical challenges in public health research and practice
  • analyze and critically discuss ethical aspects of public health policies, interventions and research
  • use both orally and in writing relevant concepts and frameworks to discuss advantages and challenges of relevant public health research approaches and methodologies

Learning Objectives - Knowledge

The module contributes to the following elements of the competency profile of the programme:

  • be able to understand, apply and reflect about relevant theory, research methods and research approaches within public health

Learning Objectives - Skills

The module contributes to the following elements of the competency profile of the programme:

  • be able to carry through research-oriented investigations within the framework of the public health area in a largely autonomous manner and to present research results to different audiences

Learning Objectives - Competencies

The module contributes to the following elements of the competency profile of the programme:

  • be able to identify individual learning needs and structure individual learning in different learning environments 

Recommended literature

Core and recommended readings for this module are not only relevant for this module but will be important also later in life, for instance during master thesis writing, as well as further in professional and/or academic career. The books contain public health topics such as screening and immunization, which are important public health topics to be dealt with. Additional articles and other resources will be announced for the group work and for other teaching topics.

Core Books:
1.Holland, S. Public Health Ethics (2nd ed.). (2014). Cambridge: Polity Press (Paperback: ISBN-13: 978-0745662190 ISBN-10: 0745662196) 
2.Bernheim, R.G., Childress, J.F., Melnick, A. & Bonnie, R.J. Essentials of Public Health Ethics (1st ed.). (2013). Burlington. Jones & Bartlett Learning (ISBN-13: 978-0763780463 ISBN-10: 0763780464) 

Additional core reading: 
1.Nuffield Council on Bioethics. (2007). Public Health: ethical issues. Retrieved from 
2.Tannahill, A. (2008). Beyond evidence—to ethics: a decision-making framework for health promotion, public health and health improvement. Health Promotion International, 23(4), 380-90. Link:

Additional recommended reading: 
1.Israel, M. (2014). Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists: Beyond Regulatory Compliance (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications. (ISBN-13: 978-1446207499 ISBN-10: 1446207498) 
2.Coughlin, S.S., Beauchamp, T.L. & Weed, D.L. (Eds.). (2nd ed.). (2009). Ethics and Epidemiology. Ox-ford. (ISBN-13: 978-0195322934 ISBN-10: 0195322932) 
3.Abbasi, M., Majdzadeh, R., Zali, A., Karimi, A., Akrami, F. The evolution of public health ethics frame-works: systematic review of moral values and norms in public health policy. Med Health Care and Philos. 2018 Sep; 21(3): 387-402. Link:

Content (changes may occur)

Public health (PH) professionals, either as practitioners, policy-makers or researchers, are often required to deal with problems and situations that have important ethical dimensions and implications. The abun-dance of recent events and developments, both in the general global arena (e.g. the global economic and political instability, the climate change, the migration crisis, the ageing population, the technological ad-vancements), and more specifically in the PH field itself (e.g. the infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola, the anti-vaccination movement, the antimicrobial resistance, the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, public health surveillance, big data in health) that present significant ethical chal-lenges highlight the imperative to provide future PH professionals with an ethical toolbox. 

On this basis, this short module aims at introducing the most important ethics concepts and approaches used in PH and their application to address issues in the field that raise ethical concerns. The current cen-tral ethical challenges posed in PH will also be presented and discussed. The overall goal of the module contents and structure is to enable students to comprehend the knowledge basis of PH ethics and to de-velop their moral competencies: 

  • Moral sensibility: the ability to recognize ethical issues in PH;
  • Moral analysis skills: the ability to analyse ethical problems in terms of facts/evidence, values, stake-holders and their interests; 
  • Moral creativity: the ability to think out different options for action in the light of (conflicting) ethical values and interests, and the relevant facts/existing evidence;
  • Moral judgment skills: the ability to give a moral judgment based on different ethical theories and/or frameworks, incl. professional ethics;
  • Moral decision-making skills: the ability to reflect on different ethical theories and to make a decision;
  • Moral argumentation skills: the ability to ethically justify one’s actions and to discuss and evaluate them

Overview of the teaching activities:

11th Nov
Introduction to the course & PH Ethics
Lecture:            Course description
                         Introduction to PH Ethics
Group work:     Get your hands dirty with PH Ethics

15th Nov
Theoretical perspectives in PH ethics
Lecture:            Principles and theories in PH ethics
Group work:     Ethical case analysis: problem statement and problem analysis  

18th Nov
Ethical frameworks in PH Ethics
Lecture:           Frameworks for ethical decision making
Group work:    Ethical case analysis: options for action

25th Nov
Current ethical challenges in PH
Lecture:          Ethical issues related to various topics in PH
Group work  Ethical case analysis: ethical evaluation & reflection

28th Nov
Research & professional ethics
Lecture:          Research & professional ethics
Group work:   How to write a good ethics essay
                       Preparing debate presentation & potential questions

2nd Dec
Debates         Panel debates 

17th Jan
Assignment   Essay writing  

Teaching format and feedback

In this module the students will acquire knowledge on the ethical theories and concepts as well as their application to public health in lectures, online exercises and from the course books and other reading material. Students will train their ability to analyze and critically discuss ethical aspects of public health; they will do this by analyzing cases, in debates and other group exercises to argue and ethically justify health decisions and actions.

The teaching format of this module is based on the blended learning approach; it combines face-to-face teaching and online learning. The face-to-face teaching includes primarily lecturing, case analysis, class-room discussions and presentations. The online part consists mainly of watching films, reading online materials, taking interactive self-assessment quizzes and having online group discussions. The two learning modes are integrated in a way that support each other with the ultimate goal of enhancing learning and providing students with flexibility. 

The face-to-face teaching is divided into 6 days: 

  • Teaching days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 consist of two hours of lecturing and a two-hour session of case-based learning with elements of role-playing (groupwork). For the groupwork, the students will be organised into groups and will be assigned a particular case and role. The cases present PH problems that have ethical dimensions and implications. There will be approximately 3-4 groups that will be working on the same case, but each group will hold a different role and thus approach the case from a different per-spective. The groups will be working on the cases throughout the module in a systematic way using and applying the ethics concepts and approaches that will be presented in the classroom. In order to secure a democratic discussion and collaboration in the groups, a discussion-facilitator is chosen from each group each day. The case analysis will lead to the debate of the 6th day. 
  • On day 6, a series of panel debates will take place with a panel organized for each one of the given cas-es. Each panel debate will consist of two representatives from each student group. The panel debates will be organized in a way that, in the beginning, each group will briefly present the ethical issues identified in the case, the ethical analysis conducted, and the decision(s) made in order to address the ethical dilemmas based on the assigned role. Following that, the panel members will have to argue against each other for the way they have decided to act out based on their adopted role. 

The case analysis is expected to enable students to obtain a better understanding of the ethics concepts and approaches introduced in the module as well as to enhance their moral competencies. The case analysis is also a good way to prepare for the final exam (essay) of the module.

Principles of learning at SDU
Like all other modules at SDU, this module is based on ‘Activating Teaching & Active Learning’ which constitutes the core principles of education at University of Southern Denmark:

Students and teachers share the responsibility for implementing these principles throughout each programme.

Students: Together with teachers and fellow students at SDU, the students are part of a binding learning community characterized by mutual respect, openness and commitment. Students show active involve-ment in class, independent studies and in collaborative work with other students. Students provide a full-time effort and continuously develop their ability to be independent and take responsibility for their own academic development. They are proactive, eager to explore and ready to learn.

Teachers: The teachers at SDU are responsible for planning and implementing teaching and learning activ-ities that support students’ active learning, both inside and outside the lecture room. The planning of the teaching reflects the teachers’ high academic and professional level and their clear focus on the learning objectives of each module and the programme. Teachers support, guide and challenge students in a learning community characterized by mutual respect, openness and commitment.

Student learning activities

The module expects the following learning activities from the students: 

  • Active participation during lectures, group work and exercises both onsite and online:  

In studying PH Ethics through case-based learning, it is essential to have a face-to-face interaction among the students and the teaching staff to exchange perspectives and learn from each other. In this module with six days of teaching in total, all days are essential for learning the basic ethics concepts and approaches and their application. Active participation (attendance) in at least five out of six teaching days is required. The last day is mandatory for all the students to attend. 

Those not able to fulfil the active participation requirement need to submit an extra assignment relat-ed to the program of the missed day: for each missed day, in the first five days, the assignment is a one-page summary text of the day’s teaching and group work task(s); for the sixth day it is a power point presentation of 5 min to the course instructors (can be given over skype, if needed).

  • Studying relevant book chapters, articles, reports and other resources
  • Complete the online activities
  • Self-dependent preparation and presentations

Feedback from the teaching staff

Students at the Faculty of Health Science continuously receive feedback in various forms. In this module students can expect both direct oral or written feedback from the teaching staff. Oral feedback is mostly preferred from teachers on questions posed during lectures and group work exercises. Written feedback can be received via discussion on Blackboard, or individual e-mail consultation during the course. In rela-tion to the written assignment, the whole class will receive one descriptive written feedback. Student can also individually ask for specific feedbacks about their assignment, if necessary. Feedback is meant to be constructive and help the students continue to build upon their skills. 

Course feedback from the students:

Real-time feedback from the students throughout the course is encouraged. The students will also be invited to fill out a course evaluation e-questionnaire at the end of the course.


Expected student workload in this course

The ECTS value of this course is 4 ECTS corresponding to a student workload of 112 hours:

Teaching hours (inc. exercises and supervision): 24 hours
Preparation/self-study: 88 hours

Examination regulations




Time of examination

The ordinary exam takes place in the first two weeks after the end of the module.

Exam schedules for the entire programme are available at


Compulsory paper




Compulsory paper


The exam in this module is a written compulsory paper (essay), written individually or in a group of two students. The theme of the paper can be freely chosen as long as it deals with public health and/or health promotion from ethical perspective, bases its analysis on some of the central concepts and/or theories dealt with in the module and handles the topic critically. 

The paper needs to be written in a scientific writing style with proper referencing of theories, concepts and empirical research papers; thus providing the website links of organizations may not be enough. Fol-lowing is the guidelines for the submission of the written assignment (compulsory paper): 

  • Word count: The essay can be maximum five standard pages if written individually or can be maximum seven standard pages if written in a group of two students. Definition of a standard page can be found here:
  • Page margin: Each page should have a 1 cm margin for binding and a margin of 2 cm at each side
  • Referencing: The text should be well referenced (the most preferable styles are Vancouver and Numbered).
  • Headings: The essay should have a very appropriate title and the text should be provided appropriate sub-headings (Such as Introduction, Main text, Conclusion)

Form of examination

Compulsory assignment


Second examiner: Internal


7-point grading scale


Student Identification Card - Exam number




Size of the paper: 5 standard pages per group

Examination aids

Not relevant for this type of exam.

Assignment handin

The assignments must be handed in on blackboard in SDU Assignment.

ECTS value


Additional information

Grade 12 is given if the student has shown excellent performance, having comprehensively fulfilled the module’s objectives with no or only a few minor weaknesses.


Type Prerequisite name Prerequisite course
Exam S550016312, Participation S550016301, Public Health Ethics







Active participation (attendance) in all teaching days in the first three weeks of the course, including lectures, exercises and group work and in the debates/presentations on the last teaching day, the fourth week is required.

Those not able to fulfill the active participation requirement need to submit an extra assignment related to the program of the missed day: for each missed day in the first three the assignment is a one-page summary text of the day’s teaching and group work task(s); for the fourth week it is a power point presentation of 5 min to the course instructors (can be given over skype).

Form of examination



Second examiner: None




Student Identification Card


Danish, English

Examination aids

Not relevant for this type of exam.

ECTS value


External comment

The module is identical with 3971221. Used exam attempts will automatically be transferred.

Correlation between the competency objectives and type of teaching and exam

Through the teaching forms and in combination with the exam form the students will learn about central ethical challenges of public health research, practice and policy development and implementation and will be able to train their ability to identify, analyse, argue and apply critical reflection individually and in small groups.