Bioethics and human rights: Merger or acquisition?

Professor John Tobin1

1Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

There is an increasing trend to view issues which have traditionally been the province of bioethics through the lens of human rights.  The aim of this paper is to examine this trend and the extent to which human rights has a legitimate role to play in providing guidance in relation to contentious bioethical issues.  To what extent are these discourses aligned and to what extent are advocates of a rights based approach seeking to displace the role of bioethics? After providing a general overview of the general principles that inform a rights based approach, case studies will be used to demonstrate the application of this model in practice.


John Tobin is a Professor in the Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne. He has a combined commerce/law degree with honours and a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He also has an LLM with distinction from the University of London. He has designed and taught several subjects in areas of international law, human rights, children’s rights and public interest lawyering. He also coordinates the legal internship subject across the LLB, JD and Masters programs in the Melbourne Law School and coordinates the MLS Human Rights Alumni Network. In 2010 he was awarded the Barbara Falk Award for Teaching Excellence by the University of Melbourne and in 2011 he was awarded a national citation for outstanding contribution to student learning in the area of human rights. In 2006 he was a Visiting Professor at both the American Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Washington College of Law, American University and in the Law School at New York University. In 2011 he was the Senior Scholar in Residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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