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Law & Bioethics: Finding Legislation & Cases

Case Studies

Secondary Source

Secondary legal sources provide comment, discussion, and explanation of primary authorities and, more importantly, help you locate primary authorities. Unlike primary resources, they are not the law itself.

Consulting secondary sources can complement your legal research, for several reasons:

1) By providing summaries of legal principles and overviews of legal theories and doctrines you can research unfamiliar legal topics.

2) Secondary sources often provide extensive, nuanced discussion of complex, unusual, or emerging topics.

3) Many secondary sources contain numerous citations to primary law, so they can help you identify leading cases and statues.

Types of secondary sources include:

     Law reviews and journals

     Nonlegal periodicals



     Government publications

Finding Legislation & Cases

Statues and Legislative History

You can retrieve federal or state code sections easily if you have the citation of them from a secondary source or from a case. You can always search the code to find the sections. Another resource you can tap into are legal databases.

  • - This searchable database includes both federal and state laws, regulations, and policies related to genetics (stem cell research, cloning, employment discrimination, ect.) coverating 2007 - present.
  • National Conference of State Legislatures - Genetic Laws - A resource that links to state laws relating to frozen embryos, genetic privacy, human cloning, medical foods, newborn screening and stem cell research.
  • National Institute of Health - Science Policy - The Office of Clinical Research and Bioethics Policy serves as the central locus for planning, developing, and coordinating NIH-wide policy activities for clinical and health care research, as well as promoting full integration of bioethical considerations as foundational to NIH-supported research.


You may retrieve citations to case law from relevant journal articles or books (secondary sources) which usually discuss, analyze, and cite leading cases. Use the articles bibliographies to find other relevant cases and journal articles.

Another excellent source for finding legal cases are indexes. Indexes will include journal articles, book chapters, bills, laws, court decisions, reports, books, audiovisuals, and news articles relating to specific identified subject mater. Some excellent bioethics indexes are:

  • The Catholic Dimensions of Legal Study - DuFour Law Library has created an online database of more than 1180 bibliographic records of articles, books, book chapters, papal documents and other source materials entitled The Catholic Dimensions of Legal Study. This bibliography was created to help law faculty and others find materials to assist them in response to the 1998 message of the United States Catholic Bishops.
  • ETHXweb - A useful resource for researching materials in an extensive range of topics relation to bioethics covering 1974 - 2009.
  • BELIT (Bioethics Literature Database) — provides access to approximately 550,000 records from integrated German, American and French databases.
  • Global Ethics Observatory  — The Global Ethics Observatory is a system of databases with worldwide coverage in  bioethics and other areas of applied ethics. 2005 - Present

State Sources

Resources for state legislation and laws can be found on individual state government sites. You can find sites that will give you links to each individual states government sites such as this: Find Law

Resources for North Dakota:


Attorney General Opinions - Formal opinions to certain government officials on questions of law that relate to their governmental duties.
North Dakota Supreme Court Decisions - The latest written opinions from North Dakota's highest court.
North Dakota Constitution - The Constitution of the State of North Dakota, Understand the functions and powers of North Dakota government and the rights of its citizens.
Legislature: Bill Information - Bills, Resolutions & Journals from the North Dakota State Legislatre.
North Dakota Administrative Code - The Administrative Code of North Dakota.
North Dakota Century Code - The North Dakota Century Code from the North Dakota Legislative Branch.
State Legislature - The official site of the North Dakota Legislature.

Federal Court

U.S. Court of Appeals (8th Circuit) Opinions - Opinions and resources from the Court.

State Court Opinions

North Dakota Court Information - Learn about the North Dakota court system and find your local courthouse.
North Dakota Supreme Court Opinions - Provides access to North Dakota Supreme Court opinions; includes links to cases since 1996, case citation rules.

Federal Legislation

North Dakota Bills - Bill summary and status from the Library of Congress.

Guide to Law Online

This resource Guide to Law Online is prepared by the Public Services Division of the Law Library of Congress, the Guide provides links to online sources of information on government and law. It links to reliable sites that include: International and Multinational; Nations of the World; U.S. Federal; U.S. States and Territories, ect.

What is a Legal Primary Source?

Primary legal sources are official pronouncements of the law by the executive, legislative, and judicial branch. The key primary authorities are cases, constitutions, statutes, and administrative regulations. Thus, primary sources are the products of official bodies with the authority to make law.

Primary Sources

Federal Regulations and Statues

The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of the regulations published in the Federal Register by executive departments and agencies of the federal government. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad subject areas. Statues relating to bioethics are generally included in Titles 21 and 42 of the United States Code.

21 C.F.R. - Food and Drugs

42 C.F.R - Public Health

45 C.F.R Public Welfare

Congressional Legislation

Issues involving bioethics are current, controversial, and often under consideration by the House and Senate, U.S. Congressional reports and pending legislation can be essential to your research. You can find legislative materials through or through the library of Congress Thomas resource. Thomas provides the full text of Public Laws back to 1989. Under Thomas' Bill Summary & Status, there is access to the text of bill digests back to 1973.

Federal Agencies

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the principal federal agency charged with protecting public health. HHS oversees a wide variety of tasks and services, including research, public health, food and drug safety, health insurance, and many others.