Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

POPLHLTH 746 - Ethics, Culture and Societal Approaches to Death

15 Points

Semester 2



Approaches to death by Māori and other cultures. Resource and legal issues in the New Zealand context.

Ethical issues:

  • Euthanasia versus palliative care
  • Privacy
  • Living wills and end of life medical decision-making, particularly treatment abatement
  • Duties after death
  • The nature of teamwork
  • The multidisciplinary nature of palliative care
  • The role of volunteers
  • Emotional self care for palliative care providers
  • Home versus residential care

Programme and course advice

This course has a multidisciplinary approach and is suitable for students eligible for postgraduate study. Health professionals who have fulfilled the admission requirements for postgraduate study are able to enrol in this course.

This course is available in the Postgraduate Certificate in Health Sciences (Palliative Care), Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Health Sciences and Advanced Nursing schedules. Postgraduate nursing students who wish to enrol in a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Sciences are advised to contact the School of Nursing for guidance on a recommended pathway and core courses that need to be completed.

Other courses that may be of interest are POPLPRAC 720, POPLPRAC 722, POPLPRAC 723 and POPLPRAC 724 for health professionals.

This course is one of four courses suitable for a Postgraduate Certificate in Health Sciences for hospice family support professionals, along with POPLPRAC 720, POPLPRAC 702 and SOCHLTH 732.

Learning and teaching

Goals of the course

Death, it is said, is the only 100% certainty in our lives. Yet it is an event for which we are often ill prepared – both personally and professionally. This postgraduate course explores the attitudes and beliefs related to dying which are shaped by the broader social, economic, technological and political context in which we live. A knowledge and understanding of the unique Aotearoa/New Zealand context guides clinicians in their relationships with patients and families and in their decision-making processes. It also gives insight and provides a basis for the development of inter and intra agency skills that are fundamental to a form of care that is often dependant on the resources and skills of many individuals and organisations.

Course objectives

  • To develop an understanding of the social, political, cultural, spiritual and technological context of dying in Aotearoa/New Zealand
  • To develop an advanced understanding of the nature of and the ethical theories that underpins ethical decision-making at the end of life
  • To consider the impact of cultural theories on professional care
  • To consider the ways in which health care organisations and professionals have responded to the need to deliver appropriate care to people who are dying

Learning outcomes

At the completion of the course, the student will have the knowledge to:

  • Critically evaluate the effectiveness of past and present systems of health care organisation involved in the care of the dying in Aotearoa/New Zealand
  • Develop skills in retrieving information, which enables an understanding of the specific needs and rituals of people from diverse cultures, thus enhancing a flexible approach to care delivery
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of justice, non-maleficence and beneficence as they relate to medical decision-making at the end of life
  • Demonstrate the ability to use an ethical framework for decision-making in palliative care practice
  • Demonstrate knowledge of appropriate statutes and legal responsibilities related to palliative care
  • Demonstrate understanding of common patient and caregiver issues and the need for user involvement and feedback in palliative care
  • Be familiar with key policies which impact on palliative care in New Zealand
  • Describe emerging models of palliative care service delivery
  • Discuss contemporary issues in palliative care

Learning and teaching

This course is delivered in distance mode and includes one 2-day seminar in Auckland. Course details and information including access to digitised readings and assessments are online and will be made accessible through CANVAS at the beginning of the semester.  

Learning resources

The following resource formf part of the recommended list of resources and access to it is an advantage.

  • Cherny, N., Fallon, M., Stein, K., Portenoy, R. and Currow, D. (eds)(2015)Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine 5th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A list of websites and digitised readings is provided with the course material.


This course is assessed in three ways. Assessment 1 is focussed on Palliative Care Ethics which challenges decision-making in practice (2500 words and 35% of the total assessment mark). 

Assessment 2 is an essay which is focussed on Health Policy and the organisation of Palliative Care (2500 words and 35% of the total assessment mark). As current palliative care practice is an advantage for this theoretical course, negotiated options (with the lecturers) based on the same topics are possible for students not in current practice.

Online discussions are also part of the assessments in this paper and account for 30% (15% each) of the final total mark.

Content outline

Course components include:

  • The history of caring for patients with life-threatening illness and dying in New Zealand
  • Māori spirituality and dying
  • Exploring concepts of culture and society in relation to dying
  • Introduction to ethical principles as they apply to end-of-life illness
  • Social theories relating to palliative care

Course Coordinator

Course Administrator