Use of Estimated Data Should Require Informed Consent

Guest post by Donna M. Gitter, Zichlin School of Business, Baruch College, based on Professor Gitter’s presentation at the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2016 Annual Conference, “Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics,” held May 6, 2016, at Harvard Law School.

Cross-posted from the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum.

The Icelandic biotech firm deCODE Genetics has pioneered a means of determining an individual’s susceptibility to various medical conditions with 99 percent accuracy by gathering information about that person’s relatives, including their medical and genealogical records. Of course, inferences have long been made about a person’s health by observing and gathering information about her relatives. What is unique about deCODE’s approach in Iceland is that the company uses the detailed genealogical records available in that country in order to estimate genotypes of close relatives of individuals who volunteered to participate in research, and extrapolates this information in order to make inferences about hundreds of thousands of living and deceased Icelanders who have not consented to participate in deCODE’s studies. DeCODE’s technique is particularly effective in Iceland, a small island nation that, due to its largely consanguineous population and detailed genealogical records, lends itself particularly well to genetic research.

While Iceland’s detailed genealogical records enable the widespread use of estimated data in Iceland, a large enough U.S. database could be used to make similar inferences about individuals here. While the U.S. lacks a national database similar to Iceland’s, private companies such as 23andme and Ancestry.com have created rough gene maps of several million people, and the National Institutes of Health plans to spend millions of dollars in the coming years sequencing full genome data on tens of thousands of people. These databases could allow the development of estimated data on countless U.S. citizens.

DeCODE plans to use its estimated data for an even bolder new study in Iceland. Having imputed the genotypes of close relatives of volunteers whose DNA had been fully catalogued, deCODE intends to collaborate with Iceland’s National Hospital to link these relatives, without their informed consent, to some of their hospital records, such a surgery codes and prescriptions. When the Icelandic Data Protection Authority (DPA) nixed deCODE’s initial plan, deCODE agreed that it will generate for only a brief period a genetic imputation for those who have not consented, and then delete that imputation from the database. The only accessible data would be statistical results, which would not be traceable to individuals.

Are the individuals from whom estimated data is gathered entitled to informed consent, given that their data will be used for research, even if the data is putatively unidentifiable? In the U.S., consideration of this question must take into account not only the need for privacy enshrined in the federal law of informed consent, but also the right of autonomy, which empowers individuals to decline to participate in research. Although estimated DNA sequences, unlike directly measured sequences, are not very accurate at the individual level, but rather at the group level, individuals may nevertheless object to research participation for moral, ethical, and other reasons. A competing principle, however, is beneficence, and any impediment to deCODE using its estimated data can represent a lost opportunity for the complex disease genetics community.

Continue reading

REGISTER NOW: Aligning Policy and People: Why the Time is Right to Transform Advanced Care

hands_Ingram Publishing_slideJune 21, 2016, 9am – 1pm

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036), Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Register now!

Description

Please join us for the inaugural event of the Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy, a collaboration between the Coalition for Advanced Care (C-TAC) and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. This conference will feature policymakers, thought leaders, family caregivers, clinicians, consumer advocates, and others working to identify the timely, practical, and actionable opportunities to transform care for people with advanced illness nearing end-of-life.

Confirmed Speakers

Continue reading

Henrietta Lacks and the Great Healthdata Giveaway

Part Seven of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

A suggestion runs through the debate on the NPRM to amend the Common Rule that the proposed changes are a tribute to Henrietta Lacks, a necessity so her story is not repeated.

That story was told in a the national bestseller  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a moving biography of the young woman whose  aggressive tumor was the source of the ubiquitous HeLa cells (probably without her consent, certainly without her awareness of what followed); her family;  the  cells’  (and her) dehumanization into a research tool to be exploited unthinkingly; and the poverty, disconnection, racism,  lack of health care and lack of concern for her family. Society and scientists received a bonanza, and did nothing for her family in return.  The book criticizes phony consent, and advocates sharing  cell line proceeds with donors and their families. It rekindled discussion of consent and racist legacies, while urging that injustice required social change.

Continue reading

Radical Redesign of Health Care and Its Implications for Policy: A Lecture by Donald Berwick, MD, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2010-2011)

stethoscope with puzzleSpecial Lecture to Open ASLME’s 39th Annual Health Law Professors Conference

June 2, 2016, 6:00pm

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036), Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Reception to follow.

Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please register for the lecture and reception here.

Introduction by Martha Minow, Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor, Harvard Law School

Moderator: I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

MAGAZINE- 12/17/03; Boston- Dr. Donald Berwick poses for a portrait at his Boston organization The Institute of Healthcare Improvement. Photo by Laurie Swope (DIGITAL IMAGE)

Donald Berwick, MD, is one of the United States’ leading advocates for high-quality healthcare. From July 2010 to December 2011, he served as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For 22 years prior to that, he was the founding CEO – and now President Emeritus and Senior Fellow – of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit dedicated to improving healthcare around the world. A pediatrician by background, he has also served on the faculties of the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Continue reading

How Not to Debate Health Care Reform

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 12 with portions of the essay missing. The corrected text is below.

By Ted Marmor

Presidential campaigns in the United States are not typically fought over competing manifestos, with policy details set out in reasonably clear language. Rather they are disputes among candidates about the state of the country and what values—or aspirational visions—they endorse.  And, for at least a century, most American debates about health care reform have been dominated by ideological slogans, misleading claims about financing, and mystifying labels. Republicans have exemplified the mystification this year, repeatedly mislabeling Obamacare as socialized medicine and falsely claiming it a “takeover of American medicine.”

In fairness, the Democratic primaries have generated their own version of mystification. The two candidates do agree on the goals of universal health insurance. But clarity ends there. The Clinton campaign has emphasized incremental reform possibilities and criticized Senator Sanders’ proposal of Medicare for All as unrealistic. Sanders, by contrast, has offered a compelling conception of a fairer and less expensive version of what Americans want, but no incremental steps to get to it.

Continue reading

NPRM Symposium: Consent, Causality, and Castles in the Air

Part Six of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

Reading the NPRM and its government commentary, one is subtly, slowly led to a sense of inevitability.  Arguments from abstract principles emerge, leave a footprint and then, in the wake of another tide of interests and arguments, another principal supplants them.  But we are to believe that each previous  footprint endures intact.  There’s “autonomy,” said to require expanding opportunity to consent to honor individual preferences, overtrodden by scientific convenience, which demands just one-time consent, and suggests that world-changing choices to be privacy-bare may be irrevocable.  There’s privacy demanding that information meet HIPAA deidentification standards at least some of the time; but there is some undisclosed vector requiring that there is no limit on who government may share your medical information with.  Surrender to the illusion that these are not inconsistent,  and the proposal is the best of all possible worlds, in which every inconsistent good is maximized and every tradeoff ignored.  Surrender the illusion itself and one sees a mix of juxtaposed  partial-prints going different directions, each incomplete.

Continue reading

When Global Health Norms Meet Medicaid

Special guest post by Nicholas J. Diamond

Medicaid is currently facing a timely, although largely underappreciated, challenge: rebalancing Medicaid long-term services and supports (LTSS). For context, LTSS refer to a broad range of paid and unpaid medical and personal care assistance for individuals who experience difficulty completing self-care tasks due to aging, chronic illness, or disability. According to 2013 estimates, there are approximately 12 million individuals in the U.S. who rely on LTSS, mostly paid for through Medicaid, with a projected increase to approximately 27 million individuals by 2050.

Medicaid has a historical structural bias toward institutional care, such as nursing homes, as opposed to home and community-based services (HCBS), such as home health aides, personal care, chore services, supported employment, rent and food for live-in caregiver, and nonmedical transportation, among many others. Medicaid LTSS rebalancing, therefore, shifts spending away from institutional settings and toward HCBS, which is less expensive and generally preferred by beneficiaries. States may provide HCBS through a complex panoply of federal statutory authorities, including waiver authorities, which afford states wide latitude in designing programs. As you might imagine, with flexibility comes significant variations in how states provide HCBS, which specific types of HCBS they provide, and whether, for instance, cost containment strategies available under certain authorities negatively impact access to needed services. Continue reading

BioData World Congress USA, Sept 14-15 in Boston

BioData Congress Americas 2016

BioData World Congress USA 2016
September 14-15, 2016

Hyatt Regency, Boston, MA

BioData World Congress USA is the world’s leading event for individuals working with Big Data in precision medicine.

The two day conference will feature case study applications of Big Data and Genomics to drive precision medicine into the clinic through the assembly of the multidisciplinary cohort involved in the delivery of the Precision Medicine

The event will cover a range of different topics including:

  • How to manage data generated in bioinformatics
  • How to utilise NGS to develop more targeted therapeutics
  • How to practically apply genomic data in precision medicine
  • Utilizing the Cloud for collaborative research
  • Developing secure information systems
  • Ethical considerations in the sharing of genomic data
  • How to transition big data into the clinic
  • How to access open source technologies in LS research
  • How to apply big data analytics to mine information

Click here for more information, including how to register.

NPRM Symposium: “I prefer to be asked”

Part Five of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The preamble to the NPRM justifies requiring consent for data and specimen research by contending  that studies indicate that people want to be asked for permission.  However, the literature on this topic is relatively thin.  Available evidence suggests that many people, upon being informed that their heath data and tissues could or would be used in research without their consent (and nothing further is said to prompt the idea that research might delve into controversial matters) are generally fine with such use.  But when also queried whether they would prefer to have been asked, people say they would.  What the literature does not show is that people say: “I object to any use without my consent,” let alone “and I choose that over all the advantages of minimal risk research involving analysis by a computer of digitized files not humanly readable limited to disease-gene associations of thousands of medical records where consent would not be possible but the results will be essential or important to my health, the health of others, and the national health.”  Pluralistic discussion of tradeoffs over time, or an extended, candid national dialogue about the reasons for the present rules, were not in the mix.   Yet still, people said the opposite of “This must not occur without my consent!”

We have already seen one way in which the claim to be respecting the preference to be asked is untrue – it applies to only some research by some organizations.   Now here is another. The commentaries to the NPRM celebrate as fact that a patient need be asked only once, for all time, and then the only acceptable “yes” answer grants permission for any research by anybody.    It seems doubtful that a one-time consent to any future scientific research by any researcher for any purpose, without ever going back to inform or re-query,  without any regulatory provisions ensuring it was revocable, was what  participants meant by  “being asked.” Rationally, that option is far worse than no consent, for reasons we shall come to. Continue reading

New Food Law and Policy Clinic at UCLA Seeks Clinical Director

CEN_RES_MAIN_produce-7The UCLA Resnick Program is launching a Food Law and Policy Clinic during the 2016-17 academic year.  The clinic’s programmatic mission will be to facilitate sufficient access to socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable food and to improve food environments particularly for low income populations and marginalized communities.

To launch the clinic, we are seeking a Clinical Director who will be expected to teach, develop, and manage the clinic.  The Clinic Director will also work with faculty and administrators to develop and implement other food law and policy related experiential opportunities for students.  The job announcement and details can be accessed at https://recruit.apo.ucla.edu/apply/JPF02172.  Details about our program can be found at: http://www.law.ucla.edu/centers/social-policy/resnick-program-for-food-law-and-policy/

NPRM Symposium: So many left behind…

Part Four of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The development of research benefits depends on research participation.  Research participation, in turn, depends on being asked to participate, and how people evaluate what is being asked of them.  This post focuses on a few, not all, of those disproportionately excluded from research through one mechanism or another.  It illustrates some of what the proposed amendments to the Common Rule governing human subjects research will likely mean in practice absent some special vector that changes the outcome.  We will discuss what such a social vector might look like at the end.

We will start with those people who, understanding the real impact and meaning of providing their “blanket consent” to research, and uncomfortable with the sweeping right to invade and permit others to invade their privacy, refuse to sign it.   Who are they? Continue reading

NRPM Symposium: “We are holding health care for ransom, just get naked already!” or “Consent neutrality is non-neutral in effect”

Part Three of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

In the previous post of this series, we took a look at how comprehensively certain proposed revisions to human subject research regulations would apply and whether they would, if effective, really fulfill a broad goal of enabling the consent of everyone to researchers’ use of their clinical data.  The answer is a big “No,” based on their scope.  If public trust in science depends, as the government claims, on individuals’ consent reliably and consistently governing research use of their data, then science is in trouble; all the government has proposed is a restriction on the institutions a supermajority of the people trust already to protect their privacy: healthcare providers, researchers funded by the NIH, and a handful of other federal agencies.   Everyone else, from Google to spymaster, drug company to next-door neighbor, is unaffected except to the extent that those entities, or reviewing IRBs, require contracts that say something more, which in this case is left to chance.

The proposed regulations call for government to draft a general blanket consent to govern tissue banking and banked data.  “Blanket” means that it covers everything, in undifferentiated language, with no opt outs – all or nothing.   Such an approach will eliminate most or any choice about what one is consenting to.  It will require consent to any research by anybody using any technique, with any goal in mind.  The options will be to consent to that or not consent at all. Continue reading

NPRM Symposium: Privacy and Promises, Promises, Promises

Part Two of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The first blog post in this series probably provided a few surprises, but the surprises are just beginning. Can the NPRM to amend the Common Rule keep its promises?

The NPRM promises that patients will be able to consent to use of their clinical data in research, which is actually two promises, not one. The first is that the consent will be given effect. The second is that the refusal will be given effect.  As to refusal, the NPRM absolutely does not keep its promise.

The NPRM is filled with page after page of exceptions where your consent is not required. These include examples like trailing you and spying on you in public, some tests done on how to affect children’s behavior, and more. Continue reading

NPRM Symposium: Your Privacy or Your Life – Human Research Subjects and the Great Healthdata Giveaway

Part One of Seven-Part Blog Series by Guest Blogger Patrick Taylor

The recent Apple-FBI controversy has highlighted the fact that our government, obligated to protect our privacy in some contexts, actively undermines it in others. The same internal conflict of interest is responsible, at least in part, for the U.S. government’s recent proposal to revise longstanding regulations to protect people who participate in research.

The proposals emerged last September, 2015, and were hailed as the first major reworking of the regulations in several decades, four years after an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking buried somewhat different approaches to the same desired adverse privacy effects in a tome of hundreds of pages. It’s a safe bet that few if any members of the public not professionally involved ever read them. The feds gave themselves four years to consider and devise the current proposal, but they gave the public about four months to consider it and with no evident structured interaction with public opinion. Continue reading

REGISTER NOW! 2016 Annual Conference: Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics

Close-up of fiber optic cables

2016 Annual Conference:
Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics
May 6, 2016
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

“Big Data” is a phrase that has been used pervasively by the media and the lay public in the last several years. While many definitions are possible, the common denominator seems to include the “three V’s” – Volume (vast amounts of data), Variety (significant heterogeneity in the type of data available in the set), and Velocity (speed at which a data scientist or user can access and analyze the data).

Defined as such, health care has become one of the key emerging use cases for big data. For example, Fitbit and Apple’s ResearchKit can provide researchers access to vast stores of biometric data on users from which to test hypotheses on nutrition, fitness, disease progression, treatment success, and the like. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have vast stores of billing data that can be mined to promote high value care and prevent fraud; the same is true of private health insurers.  And hospitals have attempted to reduce re-admission rates by targeting patients that predictive algorithms indicate are at highest risk based on analysis of available data collected from existing patient records. Continue reading

Reproduction Gone Awry

The Daily Journal published an op-ed article by Blogger and University of San Diego (USD) School of Law Associate Professor of Law and Dov Fox titled, “Reproduction Gone Awry.”

In his article, Fox points to last month’s lawsuit against a Beverly Hills fertility clinic — the same one sued by Sofia Vergara’s ex in a dispute over control of frozen embryos — arguing it would be a mistake to write it off as another aberration. The clinic is accused of having negligently destroyed the only seven frozen embryos that a Sherman Oaks woman created using her donor-fertilized eggs.

The article argues that high-tech procreation goes largely unregulated makes these mistakes more common than you might think. A comprehensive study by Johns Hopkins University of U.S. fertility clinics found that more than one in five report errors in diagnosing, labeling and handling genetic samples or embryos. See “Genetic testing of embryos: practices and perspectives of US in vitro fertilization clinics” (2008).

Mistakes like these can also frustrate efforts to avoid parenthood or to have children who are born healthy. Fox refers to one recent case in which a pharmacist filled birth control prescriptions with prenatal vitamins.

Fox goes on to state that the victims of such transgressions have little recourse under the law and they almost always lose in court. Contract claims can’t vindicate patient interests where providers, despite their negligence, haven’t broken any specific promises. Like all doctors, reproductive specialists are careful to avoid guaranteeing particular results of their care. And they usually insist that patients waive liability for even implied breaches of contract.

Moreover, Fox also argues that ordinary medical malpractice won’t work either because patients in the reproductive context don’t sustain bodily intrusion or impairment beyond the treatment they agreed to. Nor can recovery for economic setbacks or emotional distress capture the deepest injury at stake. Indeed, it is one our law doesn’t recognize: namely, having been robbed of the ability to determine the conditions under which to become pregnant or have children.

Read the full article online.