Law and Bioethics

JD/MA, University of Pittsburgh School of Arts and Sciences and the Center for Bioethics and Health Law

The School of Law and the School of Arts and Sciences (A&S) offer a joint degree program in law and bioethics. Graduates of the program receive the Juris Doctor (JD) degree, the basic professional degree in law, and the Master of Arts (MA) degree from FAS, in bioethics. The joint degree program is directed by Greer Donley, JD, in cooperation with Lisa S. Parker, PhD, who directs the interdisciplinary Master of Arts in Bioethics.

The joint degree program has been established in recognition of the extensive and increasing overlap between law and bioethics. The objective of this educational program is to prepare graduates with an interdisciplinary background in law and bioethics so they can address those issues and situations that require knowledge of and expertise in both. Graduates will be academically prepared for professional roles as bioethicists in health care institutions, in public policy working for government or philanthropic organizations, or in the practice of law, for example, giving counsel to health care institutions.

Contact Information

University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Professor Greer Donley
3900 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
(412) 648-1359

Curriculum & Requirements

The sequence of the curriculum is designed to allow students maximum flexibility. Students may either take the entire first-year School of Law curriculum intact, or they may take one bioethics course — Theoretical Foundations of Applied Ethics — in place of Criminal Law (which would then be taken in their second year of law school). Students should discuss this plan of study with Prof. Alan Meisel, Director of this joint program.

Writing Requirements

The writing requirements for both degrees are simultaneously satisfied by completion of the master's thesis requirement in a subject in the field of law and bioethics.


The Clinical Practica ensure that students will be comfortable in and knowledgeable about the clinical setting by learning how to identify the normative issues in clinical cases and to be able to give practical advice regarding difficult bioethical dilemmas. Students are scheduled for six credits of clinically-based work, which may be reduced to three for students with previous health care training. In Clinical Practica I and II students acquire familiarity with the clinical setting by

  • rounding in specified services with residents, attending physicians, and other health care professionals, including one night on call per service
  • participating in twice weekly seminars on medical sociology and clinical ethics and to fulfill those seminar requirements of reading, writing, discussion, and case presentations
  • observing ethics consultations and clinical ethics teaching sessions
  • completing a self-paced programmed text covering basic medical terminology

In Clinical Practicum II, students participate in an intensive four-week rotation in the clinical area of their choice, allowing in-depth development in an area of clinical medicine. Students should relate this intensive clinical experience to their thesis topic.

Visit the Center for Bioethics & Health Law Academic Programs >

In addition to meeting the specifically required coursework for the JD degree and the MA degree, students will select electives from among an array of courses available in the two separate degree programs and in other parts of the University. For an up-to-date list of law school courses considered to be especially appropriate for students in this joint degree program, students should consult the courses listed as electives for the Health Law Certificate Program.

Students in the joint law and bioethics program will ordinarily fulfill the requirements of the Health Law Certificate Program in the law school and may obtain this certificate concurrent with the joint degree.


Students enrolled in the joint degree program accomplish in three to four years what would take four or more years if the two degrees were obtained separately. The total required number of credits 100, as compared with 118 credits if the two degrees were taken separately. The 100 credits include 34 credits of specifically prescribed* law courses, the Bioethics and Health Law Clinical Practicum (3 credits), and 18 specifically prescribed credits in bioethics. Within the remaining 45 credits, students must satisfy requirements for their law degree, take a course from the list of Restricted Elective courses for the bioethics degree, and take at least 3 credits in a course relevant to bioethics (either in the law school or not).

Taken as a joint degree program, the two degrees are ordinarily earned in 7 semesters and one summer.  

During at least 5 semesters, joint degree students must be coded by the University Registrar as "primary law." During these semesters, they pay tuition at the Law School rate. They must enroll in at least 10 credits of law school courses.

Specifically Prescribed Law courses

Contracts 4
Criminal Law 3
Legal Analysis and Writing (Fall Term) 4
Legal Analysis and Writing (Spring Term) 4
Torts 4
Civil Procedure 4
Constitutional Law 4
Legislation and Regulation 3
Lawyering 3
Property 4
Pitt Law Academy (Fall Term) 0
Pitt Law Academy (Spring Term) 0

A full listing of the requirements for graduation from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law can be found on the Graduation Requirements page.

Bioethics and Health Law

Clinical Practicum 3

Specifically Prescribed Bioethics courses

Theo Found App Ethics 3
Philosophy of Medicine 3
Bioethics 3
Clinical Practicum II 3
MA Thesis Research 6

Additional 45 credits, including courses serving as

a bioethics restricted elective 3
a bioethics elective 3

Total: 99 Credits.


Students are required to consult with the Director of the Joint Degree Program during or prior to the spring registration period each year in order to assure that they meet all requirements of the Joint Degree program.

For Students Interested in Practicing in New York

Please be advised that students who wish to be admitted to practice in New York should not enroll in this joint degree program unless they limit the number of credits from outside the Law School that count toward their JD degree to no more than 12. See New York Rules of Court § 520(c)(5).

Application Instructions

Students wishing to enroll in the joint degree program must first be admitted to each of the individual programs. Students must complete and submit two separate applications, although the bioethics program will accept the unofficial photocopies of transcripts and LSAT score, so long as the official copies are on file in the School of Law. Application to both programs may be made simultaneously, or students may apply to the bioethics program during the first or second year of law school. It is preferable for students to apply early. Students who have completed one year of the master's degree may enroll in the School of Law and have master's degree credits applied toward the law degree only if, at the conclusion of one year of the master's degree, they still require at least 12 credits to complete in that degree program.

To apply to the MA in Bioethics Program click here:

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The deadline for application for admission to the School of Law is March 1. The deadline for application for admission to the bioethics program is March 31st.  Again, earlier application is advantageous to prospective students, as the class may be filled with early applicants.

Tuition & Financial Aid

Students must pay tuition at the law school rate at least 5 semesters and to  A&S for 2 semesters (or 18 credits).

Students who complete the program in 7 or 8 semesters will be billed at the lower  A&S tuition rate for two semesters.

When coded as "primary A&S" and paying tuition at the A&S rate, a maximum of 15 credits are paid for by the A&S per-semester tuition rate. If a student takes more than 15 credits, the student will be billed extra for any credits over 15 at the FAS per-credit tuition rate.