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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Health Law & Bioethics: Primary Legal Sources

This guide is tailored to students seeking assistance with paper topic selection & related research for Prof. Wilson's Health Law & Bioethics seminar. Other researchers may find this guide useful for finding resources related to health law & bioethics.


Welcome to the primary legal sources page.  

This page of the research guide will help you locate primary legal material related to health law and bioethics. Each type of primary material-- cases, statutes, regulations, and constitutions-- will have its own information box. On the far right you will find a list of links to popular resources for locating these primary materials.

Constitutional Issues

As with other areas of law, health and bioethics related statutes must be within the limits proscribed by the U.S. Constitution and the respective state constitutions.

For example, the issue of reproductive rights touches on both bioethical and federal constitutional law issues. A line of cases which includes:

  • Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) which found a state law which prohibited the use of contraceptives, even for married couples, violated penumbral zones of privacy which emanate from explicit constitutional rights.
  • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) where the penumbral right to privacy established in Griswold was extended to a woman's right to choose.
  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 503 U.S. 833 (1992) upheld the major holdings of Roe but established an "undue burden" test which replaced Roe's trimester framework.

Several states have addressed the issue of assisted suicide. For example, Washington, Oregon, and Vermont all permit assisted suicide by statute. The Supreme Court of Montana found physician assisted suicide did not run afoul of consent provisions of the Montana homicide statute, but declined to address the issue on a constitutional basis. Only New Mexico permits assisted suicide as a right under its constitution. Most other states prohibit assisted suicide. 

  • Baxter v. State, 354 Mont. 234, 224 P.3d 1211 (2009).
  • See e.g., People v. Kevorkian, 447 Mich. 436, 527 N.W.2d 714 (1994).

It is important to consider the related constitutional issues of any bioethical topic which you are researching.

Case Law

There are many health law and bioethic related cases. Your textbook provides a glance at the major areas and premire cases. To find cases specific to your topic you will need to do some good old-fashioned searching.

In order to find cases relevant to your topic, try these tips:

  • Use annotated codes to find cases which interpret the statute you are studying.
  • Find cases mentioned by secondary materials-- also borrow terms of art and keywords from secondary sources.
  • As with other areas of law, improve the accuracy of your searches by using boolean & proximity.
  • When using WestlawNext look for topic & key numbers relevant to your subject.

Major Federal Statutes & Related Regulations

Like most aspects of Health Law, Bioethics is a very broad area of legal study. As such, there are a variety of statutes which intersect with bioethic topics. Ethical concerns governing private decisions made in clinical settings to broader policy concerns such as international human subject research, to theories govering the allocation of scare resources-- all of these topics fall within the domain of bioethics.

The United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations can be accessed via free government websites. Commerical resources such as WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law can also be used to locate statutes and regulatory resources. [See resource list located in right-hand colum.]

Below is a non-exhaustive list of major federal laws related to health care and bioethics. Included are citations to regulations related to each.          

***for administrative materials other than regulations see the Secondary Legal Sources tab                    

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare)

  •  42 U.S.C. 18001 et seq. (alternatively we could reference statutes at large)
  • See e.g., 42 C.F.R. § 600.300

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.
  • See e.g., 29 C.F.R. § 1630.1

Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA)

  • 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq.
  • 45 C.F.R. § 60.1 et seq.

Health Insurance Portability and Accontablity Act (HIPPAA)

  • see e.g., 42 U.S.C.A. § 300gg
  • see e.g., 45 C.F.R. § 160.101

Emergency Medical Treatment and Liability Act (EMTALA)

  • 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd
  • see e.g., 42 C.F.R. § 489.20

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

  • 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.
  • 21 C.F.R. § 1.1 et seq.

Controlled Substances Act

  • 21 U.S.C. § 801et seq.
  • See e.g., 21 C.F.R. § 1308.11


  •  42 U.S.C.A. § 1395 et seq.
  • see e.g., 42 C.F.R. § 400.200


  • 42 U.S.C.A. § 1396a et seq.
  • see e.g., 42 C.F.R. § 400.200

State Statutes & Regulations

While the federal government has created many laws and regulations in this area, health care and bioethics related laws are traditionally the within the police powers of the states. States also often have corrallary state laws which mirro federal laws. Often these laws provide greater rights than the federal counterpart.

Many states adopt the same or very similar laws.  The Uniform Law Commision acts as a vehicle to help states establish such laws.  With regard to health care and bioethics, a majority of states have enacted these uniform laws.

  • Anatomical Gift Act
  • Controlled Substances Act
  • Determination of Death Act

States are also responsible for the licensing and regulation of the medical profession.  The major legal databases can be utilized to search for health and bioethics laws and regulations controlling in the various jurisdictions. Additionally, one can search for laws concerning on state government websites.  Those with access to the major legal databases also have fifty-state surveys available to summarize these laws across the nation.  A few examples of such fifty state surveys available through WestlawNext are:

  • State Licensure: Physicians
  • State Licensure of Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Medical Records Retention - Facilities
  • Retention and Maintenance of Pharmacy Records
  • Patient Dumping (EMTALA)

To locate state statutes or regulations you can utilize many of the resources in the link box on the right-hand side. You can also locate state statutes by going to the state website. An A-Z listing of state governmental websites is available from

Links to primary law resources

Here are some links to legal databases that can help you locate relevant constitutions, cases, statutes, or regulations (sometimes all four!)