DNA: Donors Not Anonymous

Special Guest Post by Wendy Kramer
[In response to Sperm donor anonymity and compensation: an experiment with American sperm donors, published in the Journal of the Law and Biosciences.]

My son Ryan and I were contacted by Family Tree DNA in 2004, as they thought that their new commercial DNA testing capabilities might be useful to Ryan, and to the others in our community of donor conceived people at the Donor Sibling Registry. At that time we thought it might be possible to find out more about one’s ancestry and countries of origin. Ryan was excited to learn more about his “invisible” paternal ancestry, so quickly agreed to swab his cheek, send in his sample and see what he might learn. He may have been the first donor-conceived person to throw his DNA into a public DNA database, making himself available to connect with previously unknown genetic relatives.

At first, he did learn a bit more about his paternal ancestry, specifically about countries of origin. He learned that he was mostly English, with some Irish and even a bit of Icelandic (which he thought was pretty cool). He also matched with people on his 12 and 25 Y Chromosome DNA markers, which meant that common ancestors related them from hundreds or even thousands of years ago. And for 9 months he was content with that little bit of information. Continue reading

New Hastings Center Special Report – NFL Player Health: The Role of Club Doctors

On November 21, 2016, the Law & Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, led by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, published a Special Report in the Hastings Center Report, entitled NFL Player Health: The Role of Club Doctors. The Special Report consists of multiple parts.

First, the Special Report includes the Law & Ethics Initiative’s main article, entitled A Proposal to Address NFL Club Doctors’ Conflicts of Interest and to Promote Player TrustThis article focuses on the principal recommendation of our recent report, Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players: Legal and Ethical Analysis and Recommendations, for addressing the conflicts of interest inherent in the current structure of NFL player healthcare, in which club medical staff provide services to both the club and players.

The article proposes to “resolve the problem of dual loyalty by largely severing the club doctor’s ties with the club and refashioning that role into one of singular loyalty to the player-patient.” Specifically, club physicians would be replaced by two sets of medical professionals: the players’ medical staff, with exclusive loyalty to the player, and the club evaluation doctor, with exclusive loyalty to the club. Continue reading

Will Medicare Reform be a Republican Obamacare?

By Shailin Thomas

As the health care community waits with bated breath to see what will become of the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress have set their sites on another health-related initiative that has been on their wish list for years: reforming Medicare. While Trump promised throughout his campaign not to change the fundamental ways in which Medicare works — in part to appeal to older voters, who overwhelming would like the program to stay as it is — shortly after the election, “modernizing Medicare” appeared as a priority on the transition website for the new administration.

The reform many Republicans are pushing for — championed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) — is privatization along the lines of Medicare Advantage. Instead of providing for full insurance coverage through the government, as traditional Medicare currently does, Ryan’s proposal would have eligible patients purchase insurance from private companies with financial assistance from the government. The theory is that by having private insurers provide coverage, Medicare will capture efficiencies of the private market, while simultaneously offering consumers more choice in the coverage they receive.

After Paul Ryan first unveiled this plan in 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report detailing the significant fiscal problems with this “modernized” vision of Medicare. According to the Foundation’s analysis, the average out-of-pocket expense for beneficiaries increase from $5,630 under the current system to $12,500. The reason for this increase, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is that providing coverage is actually more expensive for a private insurer than it is for the government.  The proposal faces other economic challenges as well, and ironically, some of them stem from its close resemblance to Obamacare.

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Unified Patents and Brexit: Britain’s Back on Board

By Seán Finan

After several failed attempts, years of protracted negotiations and a glacial ratification process, it seemed as if Brexit would finally put an end to the nascent European Unitary Patent. Last week, however, the UK confirmed its intention to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement and to move forward with the plans for the creation of a single European Patent. If the UK goes ahead, the agreement would only be a German ratification away from coming into force. This means that we could see a single European patent by 2017.

So, what is the European Unitary Patent? How would it interact with the current patent regime in the EU? What would its introduction mean for the future of pharma and biotechnology in Europe?

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What is the Right Number of Unsafe, Ineffective Drugs for the FDA to Approve?

By Rachel Sachs

Later today, the Senate will begin voting on the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly last week. I’ve blogged repeatedly about the Act (most recently here), and many academics and commentators are rightfully worried about the Act’s efforts to lower FDA approval standards in different ways. I write here to put some of these concerns more plainly (and more bluntly), by asking a simple question: what is the right number of unsafe or ineffective drugs for the FDA to approve? I would like to hear the Act’s supporters answer this question. Below, I offer some thoughts of my own on how we should think about and evaluate this question.

More generally, when we think about FDA approval of new pharmaceuticals, we have to consider how the FDA should balance Type I and Type II errors. You may think the FDA ought to focus on minimizing the number of unsafe or ineffective drugs that it approves (minimizing Type I errors). After all, we don’t want the FDA putting its stamp of approval on drugs that harm patients or that don’t work. Over time, this would lead to an erosion of public trust in the FDA as a tool for consumer protection. More generally, this is the entire reason we’ve given the FDA its powers to begin with. Scandals involving unsafe or ineffective drugs prompted Congress to give the FDA more, greater powers over the years, in large part to prevent such products coming to market in the first instance.

Instead, you may think that the FDA should focus on minimizing the number of safe, effective drugs it fails to approve (minimizing Type II errors). In other words, it is worse for the FDA to deny patients access to a drug that is safe and effective than it is for the FDA to approve a drug that later turns out to be unsafe or ineffective. On this view, the FDA should still perform some screening against drugs with significant safety signals or against drugs with no plausible mechanism of action, and perhaps should require post-market surveillance studies, but the FDA ought to be enabling sick patients to access drugs more quickly. This view of the FDA’s role places greater responsibility on insurers, physicians, and patients to gather, process, and act on information about a drug’s safety and efficacy.

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