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University of Pittsburgh    
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 12, 2024
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Law and Bioethics, JD/MA

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Program Overview

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 Alan Meisel, 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 Alan Meisel
3900 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
(412) 648-7120


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.

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 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).


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.


For detailed term-specific course descriptions, please go to the Schedule of Classes Course Lists on the Law School web site.

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