Introducing new blogger Wendy Netter Epstein

Wendy Netter Epstein is joining Bill of Health as a regular contributor.

epstein-hi-res-blogProfessor Epstein is a Visiting Associate Professor at the University Chicago Law School, and an Associate Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Jaharis Health Law Institute at the DePaul University College of Law.  She is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Recent Developments. Prior to starting her academic career, Professor Epstein was a partner in commercial litigation at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, concentrating on health industry clients.  Professor Epstein’s teaching and research interests focus on health care law and policy, contracts, and commercial law.  Her work takes an interdisciplinary approach, applying both law and economics and behavioral science principles to problems negatively impacting vulnerable parties.  In 2017, Professor Epstein won both the University-wide and law school Excellence in Teaching Awards at DePaul University.

Representative publications:

Welcome, Wendy!

Applications Due TODAY, 8/11! 2017-2018 Petrie-Flom Student Fellowship

PFC_Logo_300x300The Center and Student Fellowship

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the scholarly research of important issues at the intersection of law and health policy, including issues of health care financing and market regulation, biotechnology and intellectual property, biomedical research, and bioethics. The Student Fellowship Program is designed to support closely-mentored student research in these areas. For more information on our recent fellows and their work, see our website and check out profiles of some of our past Fellows in the PFC Spotlight.

Eligibility

The student fellowship program is open to all Harvard graduate students who will be enrolled at the University during the fellowship year and who are committed to undertaking a significant research project and fulfilling other program requirements. Although the fellowship is open to all graduate students, including those in one-year programs, we encourage those who are in multi-year programs to wait until after their first year to apply. Continue reading

Petrie-Flom Student Fellowship Testimonial

Applications for the 2017-2018 Student Fellowship are due this Friday, August 11, so apply today! Full details here

By Shailin Thomas, 2016-2017 Petrie-Flom Student Fellow

The Petrie-Flom Center student fellowship was an incredible opportunity for me as a law student interested in health law and policy.  Not only did it give me a substantive legal foundation in health law, it also helped me hone my short- and long-form academic writing.  I can confidently say that I am a better law student and a better legal scholar than I was a year ago, and that is largely the result of the skills and connections I developed through the Petrie-Flom student fellowship.

Of particular importance to me was the mentorship provided to student fellows.  The faculty members that mentor student fellows are some of the most thoughtful voices in health law scholarship.  At every step of the fellowship process, the mentors are there to offer guidance — from tips for writing more engaging blogposts to advice on finding a journal to publish the fellowship paper. A large part of being a lawyer is formulating and showcasing your thoughts in the most compelling, persuasive ways possible, and the Petrie-Flom fellowship advisers are experts at increasing the impact of legal and academic work.  The ability to form strong relationships with these prominent health law academics, while getting their input and feedback on my writing, has put me in a much better position to launch my legal career. Continue reading

Two Views About the Gene Editing ‘Breakthrough’ that Are Not Getting Enough Attention (IMHO)

As has now been well-covered in the news, Nature just published a paper from Mitalipov’s lab at the Oregon Health and Science University that used CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing to correct the MYBPC3 mutation associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a heart muscle disease that affects 1 in 500 people. The more impressive element of the story is that by doing the alteration simultaneous with the sperm fertilizing the egg (not after fertilization) they were able to avoid the mosaicism that problematized early attempts in China — in mosaicism not all cells are repaired due to failure in the editing. The media coverage thus far, sadly but predictably, has focused on the soundbite of “designer babies” and “hope and hype” (indeed as my friend Hank Greely has suggested perhaps “overhype”.) These are worthy narratives to tell, to be sure, but here are two other narratives that I think are not getting the air time they deserve:

(1) The Importance of Genetic Ties: This use of CRISPR/Cas 9, as with most reproductive technologies, are attempts to allow those with disease-causing genes or other obstacles to reproduce genetically to do so. Investment and development of these technologies reifies the importance of genetic ties, as opposed to the kinds of ties associated with adoption, step-parenting, etc. It confuses a right to be a genetic parent, with a right to be a parent. We might have one right or both, but we should be clear they are different rights claims. Françoise Baylis has written eloquently about this issue in the context of In Vitro Gemetogenesis, and others (myself included) have mused on what claims the infertile have on society to have the state pay for these kinds of technologies instead of adopting. The National Academies report on gene editing suggested that clinical use of gene editing to eliminate disease be restricted to cases where there is an “absence of reasonable alternatives,” but does not take a position on when adoption is a reasonable alternative. Of course, in the U.S. at least, adoption is not easy and not available for everyone and there are a ton of interesting normative questions I have gestured at (including whether it matters for “reasonability” whether the child is of a certain age, race, or lacks developmental delay).

(2) The Importance of Embryo Sparing: A different alternative to gene editing in some cases is to fertilize large numbers of embryos and engage in preimplantation genetic diagnosis to eliminate those embryos that carry the disease-causing genes. There is a lot of obstacles to doing this: the fact that women may not retrieve enough eggs to do this, the cost (physical and financial) of repeated egg retrievals and PGD, the fact that this may not work for all genetic problems, etc. But one problem that vexes some is that this results in the destruction of large numbers of embryos (“discard” is sometimes used as the euphemism). Gene editing may be a solve for this problem. The Mitalipov group in their Nature paper have a line to this effect, “When only one parent carries a heterozygous mutation, 50% of the embryos should be mutation-free and available for transfer, while the remaining carrier embryos are discarded. Gene correction would rescue mutant embryos, increase the number of embryos available for transfer and ultimately improve pregnancy rate” (emphasis mine). This raises to me a very interesting question: some religious conservatives have tended to oppose both attempts to transform the human genome & embryo destruction (especially in the stem cell debate context). Could gene editing offer an olive branch to them as an alternative to the “greater evil” of routine PGD plus discard? Does it matter that to get to a place where we could achieve this we would have to actually destroy numerous embryos to perfect the research? (The Mitalipov embryos were not implanted, it seems under current U.S.  law that they could not be/) Is the right way to think about this consequentialist — destroy some embryos today to develop embryo sparing technologies to save many more tomorrow — or is this a case of complicity where the wrongfulness of the basic research taints what comes later?

Dissecting the Charlie Gard Case

The judicial decision to allow mechanical life support to be removed from the British infant, Charlie Gard, has been roundly condemned by some sources.  The infant’s distraught mother lamented that the parents had been allowed “no control” over their child’s life and death.  Demonstrators, calling themselves “Charlie’s army,” assembled near the courthouse crying “shame” at the court’s failure to sustain a preservable human life.  Conservative commentators condemned the “unwarranted” governmental interference with parents’ child-rearing prerogatives.  They wondered why the parents weren’t permitted to transport the infant, at their own expense, from London to New York to try an experimental medication being offered by a Columbia physician.  Another conservative source accused the National Health Service of taking Charlie prisoner, contending that the British health service feared being shown up by American free enterprise medicine if Charlie were treated in New York.

The Setting

Charlie Gard was born on August 4, 2016, suffering from a rare genetic disease called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS).  MDDS seriously affected Charlie’s brain and muscles, leaving him without ability to hear, see, cry, move his arms or legs, or breathe without a mechanical ventilator.  On October 11, 2016, Charlie was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) where he was continuously treated until just before his death in a hospice in July 2017.

In early January 2017, the GOSH clinicians had been willing to import and administer an experimental drug (nucleoside powder) touted by a N.Y. physician, Dr. Michio Hirano.  Nucleoside treatment had been used by Dr. Hirano for a different mitochondrial mutation (TK2), not MDDS.  However, before nucleoside treatment could be initiated, Charlie experienced brain seizures causing even more brain damage – leaving no signs of upper brain activity necessary for responsiveness and interaction with an environment.  GOSH’s staff then concluded that there was no meaningful chance that nucleoside treatment could help Charlie.  In February 2017, GOSH applied for a judicial order declaring that withdrawal of the ventilator would be in Charlie’s best interests (to shorten the pain and suffering that Charlie was probably experiencing) and therefore would be lawful.
Continue reading

Call For Abstracts! Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics – PFC’s 2018 Annual Conference

“Congress acknowledged that society’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment.” Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., School Bd. of Nassau, Fl. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1973).

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2018 annual conference, entitled: “Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics.” This year’s conference is organized in collaboration with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability.

Conference Description

disability-law-bioethics_slideHistorically and across societies people with disabilities have been stigmatized and excluded from social opportunities on a variety of culturally specific grounds. These justifications include assertions that people with disabilities are biologically defective, less than capable, costly, suffering, or fundamentally inappropriate for social inclusion. Rethinking the idea of disability so as to detach being disabled from inescapable disadvantage has been considered a key to twenty-first century reconstruction of how disablement is best understood. Continue reading

OK, Now What? Health Care Reform Next Steps

By Carmel Shachar

The latest push to repeal at least some aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) died late into Thursday, July 27, 2017 when John McCain (R-AZ) joined Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to vote against a much stripped down repeal bill.  This dramatic moment has been replayed over and over again by health policy wonks and on cable TV.  However, now that we have all “watched the show” a pressing question is unavoidable: What happens next?

Next Steps for Congress

The failure to pass repeal and replace (in the form of the Better Care Reconciliation Act), complete repeal (in a variation of the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act), or skinny repeal (in the form of the Health Care Freedom Act), suggests that Congress may have to resort to something previously considered unthinkable: bipartisan action.  Indeed, soon after Senate Republicans failed to pass a health care bill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY), stated that “[o]n health care, I hope we can work together to make the system better in a bipartisan way.” Continue reading

Introducing New Executive Co-Editor and Contributor Carmel Shachar

shachar_peopleCarmel Shachar, the Executive Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, will being joining Bill of Health as both executive co-editor and regular contributor. Carmel’s scholarship focuses on law and health policy, in particular the regulation of access to care for vulnerable individuals, health care anti-discrimination law and policy, and the use of all-payer claims databases in health care research.

Before coming to the Petrie-Flom Center, Carmel was previously a Clinical Instructor on Law at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School (CHLPI), where she helped lead CHLPI’s access to care and Affordable Care Act implementation work. During her time at CHLPI, Carmel focused on analyzing and translating health policy issues and opportunities for a broad range of audiences, including many federal and state-level health policy coalitions. She also coordinated and led a major multi-state initiative to document discriminatory benefit designs on the health insurance Marketplaces. Carmel previously practiced health care law at Ropes & Gray, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts. Carmel currently serves on the board of the Fishing Partnership Support Services as well as on the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Boston University. Carmel graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she was a student fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center, and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Please join us in welcoming Carmel to Bill of Health!

Sharing Data for 21st Century Cures – Two Steps Forward…

By Mary A. Majumder, Christi J. Guerrini, Juli M. Bollinger, Robert Cook-Deegan, and Amy L. McGuire

The 21st Century Cures Act was passed with support from both sides of the aisle (imagine that!) and signed into law by then-President Obama late last year. This ambitious legislation drives action in areas as diverse as drug and device regulation and response to the opioid epidemic. It also tackles the issue of how to make data more broadly available for research use and clinical purposes. In our recently published GIM article, “Sharing data under the 21st Century Cures Act,” we examine the Act’s potential to facilitate data-sharing, in line with a recent position statement of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. We highlight a number of provisions of the Act that either explicitly advance data-sharing or promote policy developments that have the potential to advance it. For example, Section 2014 of the Act authorizes the Director of National Institutes of Health to require award recipients to share data, and Section 4006 requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to promote policies ensuring that patients have access to their electronic health information and are supported in sharing this information with others.

Just as relevant, the Act takes steps to reduce some major barriers to data sharing. An important feature of the Act, which has not been extensively publicized, is its incorporation of provisions from legislation originally proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mike Enzi to protect the identifiable, sensitive information of research subjects. Senator Warren, in particular, has been a vocal advocate of data sharing. Arguably, one of the biggest barriers to sharing is public concern about privacy. The relevant provisions address this concern chiefly via Certificates of Confidentiality. Among other things, the Act makes issuance of Certificates automatic for federally-funded research in which identifiable, sensitive information is collected and prohibits disclosure of identifiable, sensitive information by covered researchers, with only a few exceptions such as disclosure for purposes of other research. These protections became effective June 11, 2017. While NIH has signaled its awareness of the Act, it has not yet updated its Certificates of Confidentiality webpage. Continue reading

Copenhagen Conference: Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing

Join us at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 20 November, 2017 to discuss Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing.

CALL FOR PAPERS

Emerging technologies in Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing offer incredible opportunities and promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced by humanity, such as climate change, environmental protection, growing population, renewable energy and improved health care. But the emerging applications also raise exceptional ethical, legal and social questions.

This conference marks the final phase of the participation of the Copenhagen Biotech and Pharma Forum (CBPF) Research Group at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) in the cross-faculty research project BioSYNergy. In accordance with the goals of this large cross-faculty project on Synthetic Biology, the event explores legal perspectives on synthetic biology, systems biology and gene editing. Dealing with the legal responses to ethical and scientific challenges raised by emerging life science technology. Continue reading

EPSDT: The little known acronym that helped millions of children

By Emma Sandoe

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the legislation that created the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program. The program requires states to provide screening and treatment to Medicaid eligible low-income children under the age of 21. In 2014 an estimated 40 million American children, or nearly one in every two kids, were eligible for this program. The Republican Obamacare repeal bills, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) gives states the option to end this program for certain kids. EPSDT has improved the lives of millions of children and families in the Medicaid program over the last 50 years and has incidentally improved care for many millions more Americans.

As part of the first bill that made changes to Medicaid, this policy would become one of the most significant developments in the history the public health insurance program. Medicare and Medicaid were passed and signed into law in July of 1965 under the Medicare Act of 1965. A year later, the Medicaid program began to be implemented in states that took up the option. By the end of 1967, 38 states had opened their Medicaid programs to enrollment and begun providing services to low-income single-parent families and elderly and disabled individuals. Despite these coverage gains and medical treatment, many low and moderate-income children in two parent households lacked access to medical care. EPSDT was the first of many significant Medicaid coverage expansions to children. What was unforeseen at the time was the way that the benefits of EPSDT have been felt across the health care system and broader population. Continue reading

How should we organize consent to research biobanking in the hospital?

By Alena Buyx, MD PhD

Ever wondered what happens to the biological material you leave behind when you check out of the hospital? Nothing much, is the usual answer. However, the little bits of blood, tissue, and urine are potentially valuable for medical research; miniscule amounts of it may already allow sophisticated analyses, including genetic ones. Thus, in an approach termed ‘healthcare-embedded biobanking’, healthcare providers have started collections of leftover patient materials to create resources for future research.

However, unlike traditional research, healthcare-embedded biobanking is not done with a clear research question in mind. The materials are simply left-overs from diagnosis or treatment and, at the time of collection, the scientific projects for which they may be used eventually are entirely unclear.

This approach leads to an ethical conundrum. Established research ethics frameworks found here and here require that patients be asked for their consent and that they are given  all the information they need to make an informed decision about whether to donate their material (and its associated data) or not.  This includes, in particular, the research goals as well as the potential benefits and risks. However, this provision of information is not possible in healthcare-embedded biobanking: the risks and benefits can only be described in very broad terms, and the goals and timing of future research are usually unknown. Indeed, the materials may even not be used at all. Continue reading

John A. Robertson (1943 – 2017)

Renowned bioethics scholar, longtime University of Texas Law Professor, and frequent Bill of Health contributor John A. Robertson has recently passed away. We at the Petrie-Flom Center mourn his passing, and our Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen writes a few words:

I saw John roughly a month ago at the Baby Markets Roundtable at UT Austin. He was, as he always was and as he still seems to me in my mind’s eye, full of electric intellectual energy, warmth, and whimsy. Every comment that I heard him make for over a decade at conferences began: “That’s so interesting…” and then he would proceed to subtly add something to whomever he responded to that was at once flattering of the idea and also five times better than what was said by original speaker. Certainly that’s how it felt when I was the person to whom he was responding.

Much will be said in coming weeks about his work—not only the centrality of Children of Choice to almost everything that has been written since on reproductive technology, but also the breadth of his work and the way in which almost every new technology soon had a wonderful take by him in print (IVF and uterus transplants most recently).

I’ll limit myself to two reflections. First, the way in which he put the field I write in (law and bioethics or law and the biosciences, depending on who you ask) on to the law school map, and with a few others (Rebecca Dresser, Alta CharoHank Greely, etc), gave it legitimacy as a real and important area of focus within law schools.

Second, and more personally, John was just about the best mentor to young scholars I have ever encountered. I met him first while I was a fellow at an ASLME event and I was blown away by the warmth and generosity of someone I considered a giant in the field (my idol if I’m honest) to a little pischer like me. Over the years I saw him do the same for countless others and I tried to do my best to palely imitate.

I can’t believe he is gone. The world seems a little darker.

Book Review: Phyllis Shacter’s “Choosing to Die” (A Story of Death by Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking)

For some people, being mired in progressively degenerative dementia is an intolerably distasteful prospect.  Precipitous mental deterioration would, for them, indelibly soil the lifetime image to be left with survivors and would pose a repugnant physical and emotional burden upon caregivers.  They know that lingering in an utterly dysfunctional cognitive state can continue for many years.

One tactic to avoid prolonged dementia, after initial diagnosis, is to take steps to end one’s existence while still competent.  And one lawful method of self-arranged death is by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED).  Strict cessation of nutrition and hydration will typically precipitate death by dehydration within 10 to 14 days.  The patient will likely lapse into delirium or confusion after a number of days and remain semi-conscious or unconscious for the duration.

The VSED route is derided by some sources as a repulsive ordeal both for the patient and surrounding caregivers.  The detractors portray the process as both torturous and excessively undignified.  They envision death “by starvation” as entailing unavoidable suffering.  They perceive offensive indignity in the accompanying erosion of mental clarity (delirium) and in days of semi-conscious or unconscious lingering.  This liminal period is deemed demeaning to the patient and “a horrible vigil” for surrounding family watching the wasting patient die. Continue reading

Harvard Grad Students: Apply Now! Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship, 2017 – 2018

PFC_Logo_300x300The Center and Student Fellowship

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the scholarly research of important issues at the intersection of law and health policy, including issues of health care financing and market regulation, biotechnology and intellectual property, biomedical research, and bioethics. The Student Fellowship Program is designed to support closely-mentored student research in these areas. For more information on our recent fellows and their work, see our website and check out profiles of some of our past Fellows in the PFC Spotlight.

Eligibility

The student fellowship program is open to all Harvard graduate students who will be enrolled at the University during the fellowship year and who are committed to undertaking a significant research project and fulfilling other program requirements. Although the fellowship is open to all graduate students, including those in one-year programs, we encourage those who are in multi-year programs to wait until after their first year to apply. Continue reading

Better Care Act Targets Immigrants

If you need yet another reason to conclude that the Senate Republicans’ proposed health care bill – the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA)– is designed more to appease different parts of the Republican base than improve the health care financing system, look no further than page 2 of the draft. There hiding in plain sight are provisions barring certain classes of documented immigrants from participating in health insurance exchanges. To understand why the bill includes these provisions, and why they make no sense from a health policy perspective, a bit of history is helpful.

As Patricia Illingworth and I document in our recent book, The Health of Newcomers: Immigration, Health Policy, and the Case for Global Solidarity, anti-immigrant sentiment has long distorted health policy. That was the case during the summer of 2009, when opponents of what became the ACA rallied in town hall meetings charging that President Obama wanted to provide coverage to undocumented immigrants. When Obama pledged to a joint session of Congress that undocumented immigrants would not be covered by his plan, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out “You lie.” Continue reading

Webinar, 6/28: Procedural Aspects of Compulsory Licensing under TRIPS

Join us at yet another webinar with J. Wested at the University of Copenhagen. This time we will debate procedural issues in compulsory licensing with H. Grosse Ruse-Kahn (University of Cambridge) & M. Desai (Eli Lilly). Further information on our webinar series is available at here, here, and below:

Procedural Aspects of Compulsory Licensing under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

Wednesday 28. June 2017
4-6 p.m (CEST)
Sign-up & questions: Jakob.blak.wested@jur.ku.dk

This webinar on “TRIPS and the life sciences” will approach the question of compulsory licensing by looking at the technical and procedural requirements applied by courts when evaluating a petition for a compulsory license.  

The balancing of the instrumental application of patent rights as a stimulator of innovation and the public interest in having access to these innovations form a controversial trajectory of discourse, which is as old as patent law. Compulsory licenses are one of the means that have been applied throughout the history of patent law, to condition this complex intersection of interests. The TRIPS agreement is no exception and art 31 contains the provision for member states to grant CL. In 2013, the Indian authorities granted a compulsory license to NATCO Pharmaceuticals for Bayers patented pharmaceutical product Carboxy Substituted Diphenyl Ureas, useful for the treatment of liver and kidney cancer. This decision raised several issues regarding the procedures and requirements to be met in order to grant a compulsory license. Furthermore, in January 2017 an amendment to TRIPS agreement entered into force allowing compulsory licensors to export their generic pharmaceuticals to least developed countries, further recalibrating the intersection of the monopoly power of the patent and public interest. Continue reading

WHO: Global Patient Safety Leadership

By John Tingle

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just produced a very informative and helpful report on the need to view patient safety as a global concern and to highlight resources that they have made available to deal with the problem and those in development. Patient safety is a fundamental principle of health care and this is fully acknowledged in the report. The report begins by quoting several facts and figures which emphasize the fact that medical errors should be regarded as a matter of acute global concern:

“According to a new study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. In the United Kingdom, recent estimations show that on average, one incident of patient harm is reported every 35 seconds. Similarly, in low- and middle income countries, a combination of numerous unfavourable factors such as understaffing, inadequate structures and overcrowding, lack of health care commodities and shortage of basic equipment, and poor hygiene and sanitation, contribute to unsafe patient care (p1).”

Approximately two-thirds of all adverse health events happen in low-and middle-income countries. Fifteen per cent of hospital expenditure in Europe can be attributed to treating patient safety accidents. Continue reading

The Global Virome Project: Understanding Our Viral Enemies to Create a Safer World

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the “Between Complacency and Panic: Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases” conference held on April 14, 2017, at Northeastern University School of Law. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Health Policy and Law and the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics (ASLME), with support from The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. 

By Ana S. Ayala

There is no doubt that viruses, emerging and re-emerging, have become an imminent global health threat. Starting in 2014, we saw the decimation of West African countries as a result of the Ebola epidemic. Soon after came the Zika outbreak that continues to pose a threat to countries in the Americas and around the world. Since December 2016, Brazil has been experiencing a rise in yellow fever cases , and deaths, among humans and monkeys alike. Colombia and Peru have already reported probable cases. As a response to rising human cases of the H7N9 bird flu, China just ordered the closure of all poultry markets in the eastern province of Zhejiang to stop the trade of live poultry.

Experts warn that the question is not whether but when a pandemic will hit. Unknown or little-known viruses currently looming in animal populations undetected pose a especially dangerous risk–we have little to no experience with them, we do not know whether or when they will spill over to humans, and we do not know where they will emerge next. Continue reading

Newtown: A Public Health Law Perspective

This post stems for the “Healing in the Wake of Community Violence: Lessons from Newtown and Beyond – Film Screening and Panel Discussion,” held at Harvard Law School on April 24, 2017. 

By Wendy E. Parmet

No man is an island
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main

                John Donne, 1624

Like John Donne’s famous Meditation XVII, Newtown, Kim Snyder’s documentary about the aftermath of the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, forces us to reflect on the inter-connectedness of human life.  As Newtown shows with power and poignancy, the victims of that awful massacre were not islands. They were a part of a continent comprised of their families, friends, community, and indeed, all who recall the awful day they were killed.

This inescapable reality, that our lives and deaths can affect and even traumatize others, is perhaps sufficient to proclaim that gun violence is a “public health problem. None of the over 30,000 Americans who die each year from gun violence (most by suicide), are islands. Nor are any of the over 78,000 Americans who are injured by firearms. All are part of the continent. Gun violence affects us all. Continue reading