Building bridges between health and law

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For Lara Khoury, understanding the profound impact of public health law is more than just a matter of academic interest. Through her research, she also strives to bridge the gaps in knowledge that are often overlooked in the legal community concerning health issues.

“It’s a field where you never get bored; everything is important,” says this year’s recipient of the CBA’s Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Law. For the better part of her career, Khoury has explored the infinite questions that lie at the intersection of medicine and law.

Khoury teaches medical malpractice and public health law and policy at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. As an associate member of McGill’s Institute for Health & Social Policy and Biomedical Ethics Unit, she also collaborates with a colleague to convene the university’s Research Group on Health and Law.

Her most recent undertaking aims to explain the surge of liability litigation faced by courts, often taking the form of class action lawsuits. In her work, says Khoury, the goal is always to identify even the subtlest catalysts that impact both health and law, ultimately shaping social behavior and promoting social change.

In this case, she hopes to carry it out over several years to properly explore whether citizens perceive governments as inadequate in addressing risks in matters of health.

A former litigator, much of Khoury’s research of the past 20 years has been inspired by her keen interest in how judges reason and solve social problems with sometimes limited tools. While she appreciates the value of sharing knowledge with the public, she sets her research goals with practitioners in mind. She emphasizes the importance for practitioners —and judges — to use her findings in tangible ways in the courtroom.

If the Oxford University alumna is regarded as an expert in the convergence of two highly complex fields, it’s in no small part because she initially favoured medicine over law.

Growing up in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Khoury’s interest in medicine and public health was practically coded in her DNA. When her father immigrated from a small town in Syria, he completed his residency in pediatrics and endocrinology in Quebec, where he also became a professor. Several of Khoury’s cousins followed suit, making medicine a familial profession.

Khoury carried on her father’s passion for medicine and teaching after spending years collaborating closely with him and taking his invaluable insights into researching medicine. “I was also able to observe him closely in his practice as I worked five years with him on a pediatric research project in my early twenties,” Khoury recalls.

Later as a law student at the Université de Sherbrooke, Khoury would discover and nurture her own passion for health law. Still, she realized she didn’t want to be a litigator; instead, she wanted to teach future practitioners.

In her third year of law school, Khoury got a glimpse at how rewarding teaching could be by leading research classes for younger students. After practising as a litigator for a year and completing a doctorate at Oxford, she landed a job as an assistant professor at McGill in 2002, where she would eventually hold the role of associate dean of research for two years.

Today, Khoury is still teaching and is well regarded among colleagues as an incredibly modest and supportive professor who prioritizes her students’ success. Robert Leckey, dean of McGill’s Faculty of Law, praises her contributions to health law, stating, “She’s better than many legal scholars at involving the next generation of researchers in her work,” he says. “That’s her real passion, and the students feel it.”

According to Leckey, Khoury — who received the Bar of Quebec’s Advocatus Emeritus designation in 2019 — plays a significant role in spearheading some of the University’s greatest grant applications. Leckey adds that colleagues celebrate her as someone who can build bridges between academic research and the practising profession.

Khoury provides expert training to members of the Canadian Bar Association, the Barreau du Québec, various medical professionals, judges, and lawyers of all areas of practice. She sits as an expert on the citizen forum of the Health and Welfare Commissioner of Quebec, providing technical guidance on topics such as home care for the elderly. She also sits on the ethics committee of Quebec’s National Public Health Institute — one of the few of its kind in the country.

For Khoury, seeing the culmination of her work come to fruition in concrete ways for the profession is fire enough to keep doing what she loves. “There are all sorts of measurement tools to figure out if our research is useful,” Khoury says. “For me, receiving this prize, I’m very proud of this in the sense that I’m being told, ‘What you’re doing is helping us and it’s useful.'”

 


Katelin Belliveau is a staff writer for CBA National.

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