1. Health Law is not Reliably Classified
Chinese universities have long debated how to classify the subject of health law. From our analysis, the responses to this debate can be roughly divided into three categories. The first category is that, as a brand-new interdisciplinary subject in China, health law should be classified as an independent discipline. Tsinghua University6 and Central South University7 are two representative institutions that support this argument. The second category is that health law should be made a branch of administrative law. This viewpoint takes into consideration that, at present, health law in China mainly includes food and drug law, prevention and surveillance systems of infectious diseases, and the national and local healthcare system. For instance, East China University of Political Science and Law puts its Health Law Research Center under the supervision of the Department of Administrative Law.8 The third category is that health law should be included in civil law. This argument is based on the argument that most medical malpractice cases fall under tort law, which is a sub-category of civil law. For example, Southwest University of Political Science and Law has classified health law as a subtopic of civil law.9 It is clear that universities have no unified way of classifying the subject of health law. This unclear classification of health law not only creates disorder in the evaluation mechanism used to assess academic achievement, but it also allows faculty members to treat health law as a “fringe” subject that is not a central part of a law school education and, therefore, give it little attention.
2. Health Law Has an Outdated Curricula and Unengaging Teaching Materials
Most Chinese universities that launch a health law curriculum pay much more attention to theoretical study than practical courses. This focus on theoretical study is problematic. Most health-related laws in China, a civil law country, are statutory, and Chinese students find these theoretical courses to be unengaging. On the other hand, health law education in the U.S. or Europe often offers stimulating practicum courses as a crucial part of its health law curriculum. For example, Georgetown University Law Center has a well-known health law major in western countries, and it offers courses like “Reproductive Health and International Human Rights Law” (a Project-Based Practicum)10 and “Regulating Alcohol, Tobacco & Food in International and Comparative Law” (a Project-Based Practicum).10 The advantages of such practicum courses are that students have an opportunity to participate in actual work with external partners of the university (e.g., civil society organizations, pharmaceutical industries, and health departments from different governments), and the students can transfer what they learn from “paper” into “practice.” This curriculum tends to engage students as they can do health-related internships beside their classroom learning. This hands-on experience is especially beneficial for this student population because health law, a new interdisciplinary area with a very practical focus, requires students to accumulate enough experience to understand it.
In addition to the outdated pedagogical approach to the health law curriculum, the teaching materials for health law study in China are ineffective. Students seldom can learn about concrete cases in the health area, and what they face in their daily study is dull statutes that detail the health-related laws in China. The lack of effective teaching materials in health law further makes the existing few teaching materials unengaging to students.
3. Health Law Has a Shortage of Qualified Faculty Members
The lack of qualified faculty members has hindered the development of health law education in China. Since health law is a relatively new subject in China, most current faculty members teaching this subject have a very limited background in the topic. The current health law faculty members in China have typically majored in other areas for their doctoral studies; they are either law professors specializing in administrative or civil law or medical school professors specializing in public health. An issue with the approach of these non-specialists is that they tend to choose a very specific area that fits their academic interests, and the students just learn the “tip of the iceberg” about health law. In contrast, faculty members that teach health law at American universities often have a more focused educational background with health law as their one and only academic focus. Professors with a high level of expertise tend to teach health law in a systematic and comprehensive way like other legal disciplines.
4. The Approach to Health Law Programs in Medical Schools and Law Schools Is Ineffective
Since health law is an interdisciplinary subject, both law schools and medical schools—especially public health departments and health humanities departments—have developed health law education in China. While this educational approach appears to be a promising way to promote health law in academia, it ultimately creates bad outcomes.
Various medical schools, such as Southwest Medical University,11 Dalian Medical University,12 China Medical University,13 and the People’s Liberation Army Naval Medical University,14 have set up and conferred law degrees to full-time health law majors at the undergraduate level. While other medical universities do not enroll students majoring in health law, most of them offer related courses in health law for medical school students. The authors argue that it is problematic to offer a health law major for undergraduate level study because health law, as an interdisciplinary subject, requires expertise in two areas—law and health. This educational model has the potential to deprive students of a solid foundation in law or health, which would be a major challenge when pursuing their career path.
In law schools, health law majors are mainly offered at the postgraduate level. For example, Peking University,15 Tsinghua University,6 China University of Political Science and Law,16 East China University of Political Science and Law,8 Southwest University of Political Science and Law, 9 and Jilin University17 have all set up health law majors at the graduate level. This approach to designing health law programs is more reasonable than creating a health law major at the undergraduate level. In fact, most American and European countries also have a postgraduate set up. However, the problem with Chinese law school is that students study law at the undergraduate level and know very little about the health or medical field. These students tend to feel at sea due to the lack of practicum courses and health law faculty members, and they often fail to understand what they are learning or have a clear idea about what they should do after graduation.
This model for health law programs, in which students major in health law at the undergraduate level in medical schools or law schools, creates a bad outcome. Students risk having an incomplete command of their health major and becoming unqualified in both their legal career and their health career. In the end, students that pursue this model are not competitive with law students who specialized in other legal areas for judgeships or students from medical school for jobs in pharmaceutical companies.