Vaccinate Your Children (Says a Federal Judge)

Flickr Creative Commons-Dan Hatton

Flickr Creative Commons-Dan Hatton

By Gregory M. Lipper

After nearly four years fighting about whether and when employers may exclude contraceptive coverage from employee health plans (and even block others from providing that coverage), it’s perhaps refreshing to see less controversial cases. And few healthcare-exemption cases are less controversial than those brought by parents who object to vaccinating their children. Although the challenged laws are objectively more intrusive than the contraceptive regulations—vaccination laws require parents to get the offending treatment injected into their children—courts thus far have correctly dismissed these challenges with little fanfare.

This dynamic surfaced again in a recent federal trial-court decision in California, in which the court dismissed a federal and state constitutional challenge to California legislation repealing the “personal belief exemption” to requirements that those entering schools and child-care facilities get vaccinated against diseases—including diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and other dreadful ailments. The court acknowledged that eliminating the personal-belief exemption “raises principled and spirited religious and conscientious objections by genuinely caring parents and concerned citizens,” but stated that “the wisdom of the Legislature’s decision is not for this Court to decide.” Because the legislature decided to scrap the personal-belief exemption, California now exempts only those children (1) with actual medical reasons for avoiding the vaccination, (2) who are home schooled, or (3) who qualify for an Individualized Education Program under federal disabilty law. That’s a much more limited and manageable group of exemptees.

Although quite a relief for those seeking to minimize gratuitous suffering from preventable diseases, the court’s decision implicates several knotty legal issues and is worth exploring further.

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Hospitals Should Think Before Performing Searches for Law Enforcement

By Shailin Thomas

In 2012, a Jane Doe suspected of transporting drugs was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents without a warrant, and brought to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. Medical Center personnel — under the direction of the law enforcement agents — performed an X-ray, CT scan, and cavity search before determining that the woman was not in fact carrying any controlled substances. A few months after suffering this traumatic — and possibly illegal — event, the woman received a $5400 bill from the Medical Center for the services rendered as part of the search.

While the woman was compensated to some extent — she settled lawsuits with University Medical Center and the CBP to the tune of $1.1 million and $475,000, respectively — her story, and stories like hers, raise important questions about the ways in which hospitals should (or shouldn’t) work with law enforcement to perform invasive searches.

It’s understandable why hospitals and medical professionals are inclined to cooperate with law enforcement requests for invasive procedures and cavity searches — law-abiding citizens often don’t want to obstruct law enforcement agents from doing their jobs. But in the course of bringing suit against University Medical Center, Edgar Saldivar of the ACLU of Texas noted that the hospital and many of its personnel didn’t know where the obligation to assist the CBP stopped. Many medical professional don’t know that — according to the CBP’s own Personal Search Handbook — they are under absolutely no obligation to comply with requests by law enforcement to perform cavity searches with or without a warrant.

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Monday, 9/12, HLS Health Law Workshop with Patricia Zettler

September 12, 2016 5-7 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Download the Presentation: Pharmaceutical Federalism

Patricia J. Zettler is associate professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law. She has expertise in the regulation of medicine, biotechnology and biomedical research, with an emphasis on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Her research focuses on the interaction between state and federal regulation of medicine and science, the challenges that innovation poses for the FDA’s regulatory scheme, and the treatment use of experimental drugs and devices outside of clinical trials. Zettler’s scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in various legal and medical journals, including the Indiana Law Journal, San Diego Law Review, Yale Journal of Health Policy Law and Ethics, Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Boston University International Law Journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, EMBO Molecular Medicine, and Academic Medicine. Zettler teaches Torts, Health Law: Quality & Access, and Food and Drug Law.

Before joining Georgia State Law in 2015, she was a fellow at the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School. Prior to her fellowship, she served as an associate chief counsel in the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel, where she advised the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services on various issues including drug safety, human subjects protection, expanded access to investigational drugs, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, prescription drug advertising and promotion, incentives for developing antibiotics and advisory committees. Continue reading

Corralling the Herd: California Medical Board Acts Against Anti-Vax Doc

This summer, California’s strict new childhood immunization law, barring all exemptions except those needed for medical purposes, went into effect for public and private schools, preschools, and day cares. This law was passed as a response to the highly-publicized 2014-2015 multi-state measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland, and also in response to the growing number of California communities with large clusters of families exempting their children from vaccine requirements, putting at risk community protection from vaccine-preventable illnesses.

As I’ve written about before, both here and in articles with Tony Yang, there are many different ways to structure childhood vaccination laws. While much of the attention goes to whether or not states offer parents the right to exempt their children based on religious and/or philosophical grounds — see, for example, the recent American Academy of Pediatrics report supporting mandated vaccination for school and daycare attendance —  there are many other implementation-related details in the laws that can increase or decrease the law’s efficacy at maintaining high vaccination coverage rates. For example, some states may require that exemption requests be filed annually (increases efficacy), some states require only that a form be correctly completed (decreases efficacy), some states allow for historically anti-vax practitioners, such as naturopaths, to complete medical exemption forms (decreases efficacy, and creates a new, permanent loophole for gaining exemptions), some states require that medical exemptions be reviewed and approved by a state public health officer (increases efficacy). Continue reading

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, in-depth analyses, and thoughtful editorials on pharmaceutical law and policy.

Below are the papers identified from the month of August. The selections feature topics ranging from the impact of prescription drug monitoring programs and pill mill laws on high-risk opioid prescribers, to the impact of formulary drug exclusions on patient health outcomes and costs, to the origins of and possible solutions to high prescription drug prices in the United States. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

  1. Chang HY, Lyapustina T, Rutkow L, Daubresse M, Richey M, Faul M, Stuart EA, Alexander GC. Impact of prescription drug monitoring programs and pill mill laws on high-risk opioid prescribers: A comparative interrupted time series analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016;165:1-8.
  2. Chambers JD, Rane PB, Neumann PJ. The impact of formulary drug exclusion policies on patients and healthcare costs. Am J Manag Care. 2016;22(8):524-31.
  3. Doshi JA, Lim R, Li P, Young PP, Lawnicki VF, State JJ, Troxel AB, Volpp KG. A Synchronized Prescription Refill Program Improved Medication Adherence. Health Aff. 2016;35(8):1504-12.
  4. Fleischman W, Agrawal S, King M, Venkatesh AK, Krumholz HM, McKee D, Brown D, Ross JS. Association between payments from manufacturers of pharmaceuticals to physicians and regional prescribing: cross sectional ecological study. BMJ. 2016;354:i4189.
  5. Green AK, Wood WA, Basch EM. Time to Reassess the Cancer Compendia for Off-label Drug Coverage in Oncology. JAMA. 2016 Aug. [Epub ahead of print]
  6. Hey SP, Kesselheim AS. The FDA, Juno Therapeutics, and the ethical imperative of transparency. BMJ. 2016;354:i4435.
  7. Kesselheim AS, Avorn J, Sarpatwari A. The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States: Origins and Prospects for Reform. JAMA. 2016;316(8):858-71.
  8. Sarpatwari A, Gagne JJ. Balancing benefits and harms: privacy protection policies. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2016;25(8):969-71.
  9. Wolf MS, Davis TC, Curtis LM, Bailey SC, Knox JP, Bergeron A, Abbet M, Shrank WH, Parker RM, Wood AJ. A Patient-Centered Prescription Drug Label to Promote Appropriate Medication Use and Adherence. J Gen Intern Med. 2016 Aug. [Epub ahead of print]

DUE TOMORROW, 9/9! Call for Harvard Submissions to Journal of Law & the Biosciences

image001The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School collaborates with Stanford and Duke Universities to publish the Journal of Law and the Biosciences (Oxford University Press), an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal. JLB includes a Notes & Developments section, comprised of brief summaries and commentary on recent legislation, regulation, and case law written by graduate students at the collaborating schools. The Petrie-­Flom Center is responsible for providing the Notes & Developments for one issue per annual volume.

We are currently seeking Harvard graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from any school to contribute papers to be published in JLB’s Notes & Developments section in early 2017. We will consider student papers that will be generated specifically for JLB, as well as papers that have been (or will be) initially written as student notes or course papers and edited for this particular purpose. JLB Notes & Developments are limited to 5000 words, including footnotes and references, and should be on a topic of relevance to law and the biosciences, in particular a topic of relatively recent concern, controversy, or change. They should focus on describing the issue at hand, explaining why it is relevant to scholars, and providing analysis and questions for further consideration. For recent examples of submissions by Harvard students, check out the April 2016 issue of the JLB. Continue reading

Introducing the 2016-2017 Petrie-Flom Student Fellows

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to welcome our new 2016-2017 Student Fellows. In the coming year, each fellow will pursue independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics under the mentorship of Center faculty and fellows. They will also be regular contributors here at Bill of Health on issues related to their research.

Sean Finan PhotoSeán Finan is an LLM candidate from Ireland at the Harvard Law School. He recently graduated from the LLB programme at Trinity College, Dublin, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Trinity College Law Review. His research interests include the ethical implications of emerging biotechnologies. For his Fellowship project, he intends to investigate the use of morality tests on patent applications as a means of indirect regulation of research.

Wendy Salkin Square HeadshotWendy Salkin is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. Her primary research is in political philosophy, moral philosophy, social philosophy, and philosophy of law. She also works on questions in feminist philosophy and bioethics. She is writing a dissertation on informal political representation under the supervision of Tommie Shelby, T.M. Scanlon, Richard Moran, and Eric Beerbohm. She holds a J.D. from Stanford Law School and a B.A. in Philosophy and Africana Studies from New York University. For her Fellowship project, she will examine new directions in the debate over lifespan extension.

Segal photoBrad Segal is currently a medical student at Harvard Medical School where he is enrolled in a dual MD/Master of Bioethics degree program. Brad received his BA and BS from UC San Diego where he double majored in Philosophy and Physiology/Neuroscience. In his first year at HMS Brad’s paper on the ethics of organ transplantation was awarded the Henry K. Beecher Prize in Medical Ethics. He has also studied the ethical implications of our evolving understanding of the brain, and has published on whether and when individual genetics and neurobiology should mitigate a criminal defendant’s moral culpability. During his Fellowship he will be studying what ‘harm’ means in the medical context.

Thomas Shailin PhotoShailin Thomas is a second year law student in a joint MD/JD program between Harvard Law School and the New York University School of Medicine. He received a B.S. from Yale University, where he studied cognitive neuroscience — exploring the anatomy and physiology behind social phenomena. His interests lie at the intersection of clinical medicine and the legal forces that shape it. Prior to law school, Shailin worked on both the administrative and clinical sides of health care, and as a research associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He is currently an affiliate of the Berkman Center and Outreach Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology. A fervent proponent of privacy and freedom of expression, Shailin has also served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. For his Fellowship project, he will focus on a tort solution for faulty eyewitness testimony procedures.

NEXT WEEK (9/7): Battling Blood in the Streets Neuroscience Panel, followed by PFC Open House

2016.09.07_battling_blood_for_printBattling Blood in the Streets: How Can Neuroscience Promote Public Health and Support Public Policy to Prevent Community Violence?
September 7, 2016 4:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA




15.09.07, 2016 Open House Visix2016 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Open House
September 7, 2016 5:30 PM
HLS Pub, Wasserstein Hall, 1st floor
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA



Battling Blood in the Streets: How Can Neuroscience Promote Public Health and Support Public Policy to Prevent Community Violence?
Far too many people across the country are left dead, injured, or traumatized by community violence. Communities can be safer when neuroscience, public health strategies, and collective advocacy are aligned in practice and policy. What are the best next steps to fostering a broad science-informed advocacy movement to effectively address community violence? Continue reading

David Barton Smith on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

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This week we welcome David Barton Smith,  Emeritus Professor at Temple University and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. David is a prolific author. He won the 1995 Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Investigator Award for research on the history and legacy of the racial segregation of health care and continues to lecture widely on this topic.We discussed his most recent book, The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health System (Vanderbilt Press, 2016), which has already received the Goldberg Prize for the best book in the area of medicine this year. David is a compelling storyteller, explaining how civil rights leaders in the 1960s leveraged Medicare funding into successful desegregation initiatives. David’s work here is also inspiring a companion documentary supported by NEH, which will tentatively air on PBS stations later this year in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the implementation of Medicare.

For the lightning round, Nic discussed new developments regarding the ACA and women’s health, while Frank talked about the new profession of patient advocates, and renewed concern over black boxed code in medical devices.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

Patient Safety and Clinical Risk in Neonatal Care

By John Tingle                                     

The CQC (The Care Quality Commission)  is the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. They make sure that health and social care services provided to people are safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and they encourage care services to improve. The  CQC inspects health facilities and they have important statutory regulatory powers and sanctions.They have recently produced a report on neonatal care and  on  providing care for infants in the community who need respiratory support. As well as some positive findings, the report does reveal a number of major patient safety risks and failings.

In England, one in every nine babies is born needing care from neonatal services and  this is on the increase. The care process here can be challenging with sick babies with complex health needs receiving hospital care and then care at home and in the community. The care of the baby traverses’ distinct pathways or care areas and sometimes problems can occur:

A lack of consistency in care and communication across a pathway can result in poor outcomes for both babies and parents.” (p.3)

The report looks at current practice in three different aspects of care: Continue reading

Considering stakeholders in policy around secondary findings in genomics

By Michael Mackley

It took nearly thirteen years and an army of scientists to generate the first sequence of the human genome. Now, patients around the world are having their genomes sequenced every day. Since the first sequence was unveiled in 2003, the cost of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) has dropped from almost $1 billion to less than $1,000—allowing WGS to enter routine clinical care, potentially transforming the way we diagnose and treat disease. Large national initiatives to read individuals’ genomes are helping to drive this transition; the UK’s NHS England is currently sequencing 100,000 genomes, and the USA has plans to sequence 1 million genomes in the near future. A 2015 study predicts that up to 2 billion people worldwide could have their genomes sequenced within the next decade—comparable to the current reach of the Internet. With so many genomes to be sequenced, it is imperative that laws and policy ensure that individuals, and society, are protected from harm. While larger pieces of legislation—such as those protecting against discrimination—are needed internationally, guidance and policies around routine management are also required.

One area of particular concern is that of ‘secondary’ (or ‘incidental’) findings. While WGS provides a valuable opportunity to learn about genetic contributions to disease (‘primary’ findings), it can also reveal genetic information that may not be relevant to the health condition affecting the patient or their family. This includes genetic changes associated with other health conditions—ranging from medically actionable findings, such as genetic predispositions to breast cancer where treatment is available, to non-actionable findings, such as genetic changes associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics published recommendations suggesting a moral obligation to seek and return actionable secondary findings, fueling significant debate (1,2). Medical Genetics organizations from other countries (including Canada and Europe) have published more conservative guidelines restricting generation of secondary findings, at least until more evidence is available to support (or refute) clinical utility and assess wider impacts. Continue reading