University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
UOM Main Page
Apply - Admissions 2016


TITLE The Best Interests of the Child - Ethical and Legal Aspects

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Moral Theology

DESCRIPTION This unit sets out to explore the ethical and legal issues and interests at stake in relation to the child. In order to set the context for these, the concept of childhood will be defined, children’s rights will be evaluated from a philosophical perspective, and their psychological capacity to consent will be reviewed. Students will then be introduced to the key concepts of autonomy and “best interests” referring to methods of assessment of what is good for a patient, typically the legally incompetent patient/child/infant, made in a particular clinical situations which respects the patient's dignity and worth as a person but which does not rely on the patient's own concept of his/her good. They will also consider whether the Harm principle may be more appropriate particularly in cases of state intervention on behalf of the child.

The unit will, in particular, focus on the child’s viewpoint in ethical and legal issues relating to (i) selection in the stages pre conception and pre birth; (ii) the significance of age in relation to access, consent to, and refusal of, treatment; (iii) conflicts between children, parents and/or health care professionals; (iv) possible conflicts when parent(s) demand or refuse medical procedures for their children on non-medical grounds; (v) issues in child protection; and (vi) the child as a research subject.

Throughout the unit reference will be made to local and international jurisprudence as a means of highlighting practical approaches to the issues under examination. Students will be encouraged to share their own legal and ethical dilemmas in the effort to constructively resolve them and as a means of empowering each other.

The unit will be assessed through two sessions requiring home preparation:

1. individual or group presentation of options in response to a hypothetical case set for study, backed with a written paper (seminar paper); and

2. participation in a moot court where a group of students is assigned a particular role and must research the legal and ethical position of the party they are representing, backed with a written paper (oral and written exercise).

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course the student should:

a) Be familiar with local and international jurisprudence relating the child.

b) Be able to see the child as a person in his or her own right, valuing the child’s own experience of health care and the benefits of his or her participation in medical decision making.

c) Be able to address possible conflicts in paediatric care.

Reading List

- ALSTON P – S PARKER – J SEYMOUR (eds), Children, Rights and the Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992.
- BAINHAM A, Children: The Modern Law, Bristol: Family Law 2004.
- FREEMAN MDA, The Moral Status of Children: Essays on the Rights of the Child, Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff 1997.
- VAN BUEREN G (ed.), International Documents on Children, Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff 1998.
- VAN BUEREN G (ed.), The International Law on the Rights of the Child, Dordecht: Martinus Nijhoff 1998.


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Oral and Written Exercises Yes 50%
Assignment Yes 50%

LECTURER/S Ruth Farrugia
Raymond Zammit

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
21st Annual Augustinian Lecture 2017
The 21st Annual Augustinian Lecture 2017 will be celebrated on the 5th and 6th December 2017 with two lectures delivered by Rev. Prof. Theodore Dieter.

Closing Date Dissertation Proposals
Deadline to present dissertation proposals for next Faculty Board is Wednesday 29th November 2017 at 1700hrs

Augustinian Institute Academic Year 2017-18

 Click here for more information


Dissertation Logbook
The Dissertation Logbook can be found here.

Quick Guide for using the Chicago Style
Click to download document.


Log In back to UoM Homepage