Compulsory Genetic Testing for Refugees: No Thanks

By Gali Katznelson

lab worker testing dna

DNA tests are not perfect and they can be vulnerable to manipulation. The UNHCR says genetic testing is an invasion of privacy. (Photo by andjic/Thinkstock)

Recent reports claim that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering using genetic testing to confirm the relationships of children who enter the country with adults to determine if they share a genetic relationship.

The website the Daily Caller reported that Sessions suggested in a radio interview that the government might undertake genetic testing of refugees and migrants in an effort to prevent fraud and human trafficking.

This proposal is problematic, not only because DNA testing is unreliable and vulnerable to hacking, it is also an invasion of privacy and flies in the face of guidelines from the United Nations’ refugee agency.

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The Health Imperative: Reunite Migrant Children with their Parents

By Gali Katznelson

Japanese family awaits evacuation 1942

A Japanese family awaits an evacuation bus to an internment camp in 1942. Children who spent time in the camps have high incidence of trauma and health problems, studies have shown. Photo via US National Archives.

Former first lady Laura Bush published an op-ed in the Washington Post where she reminded us that today’s mass detention centers for children whose parents are accused of illegally crossing the border is a public health crisis — one we have seen before.

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Prescription Monitoring Programs: HIPAA, Cybersecurity and Privacy

By Stephen P. Wood

Privacy, especially as it relates to healthcare and protecting sensitive medical information, is an important issue. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better know as HIPAA, is a legislative action that helps to safeguard personal medical information. This protection is afforded to individuals by the Privacy Rule, which dictates who can access an individual’s medical records, and the Security Rule, which ensures that electronic medical records are protected.

Access to someone’s healthcare records by a medical provider typically requires a direct health care-related relationship with the patient in question. For example, if you have a regular doctor, that doctor can access your medical records. Similarly, if you call your doctor’s office off-hours, the covering doctor, whom may have no prior relationship with you, may similarly access these records. The same holds true if you go to the emergency department or see a specialist. No provider should be accessing protected information however, without a medical need.

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Right to Try’s Problem is Funding, not Over-Regulation

By Alex Pearlman and Jonathan Darrow

Dr. Jonathan J. Darrow, an expert on FDA policy and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, spoke with Bill of Health editor Alex Pearlman this week about the new so-called “Right to Try” law, how it is different from existing regulations, and why expanded access programs will never work without thinking about resources differently.

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DNA Donors Must Demand Stronger Privacy Protection

By Mason Marks and Tiffany Li

An earlier version of this article was published in STAT.

The National Institutes of Health wants your DNA, and the DNA of one million other Americans, for an ambitious project called All of Us. Its goal — to “uncover paths toward delivering precision medicine” — is a good one. But until it can safeguard participants’ sensitive genetic information, you should decline the invitation to join unless you fully understand and accept the risks.

DNA databases like All of Us could provide valuable medical breakthroughs such as identifying new disease risk factors and potential drug targets. But these benefits could come with a high price: increased risk to individuals’ genetic data privacy, something that current U.S. laws do not adequately protect. Continue reading

The Semantics of Health Care

By Gali Katznelson

shopping trolley with medicine

The push toward commodification of health care is a luxury not everyone has. (toons17/Thinkstock)

Recently there has been a shift in popular parlance toward referring to PCPs as primary health care providers. Not primary health care physicians or practitioners, but providers.

This change seems to have increased in popularity after the original passage of the ACA, specifically with the opening of the health insurance marketplaces.

But it was particularly jarring, as a Canadian, to become accustomed to terminology that reframes physicians as providers, and patients as consumers.

Ostensibly, this language comes from a movement to empower patients to be more engaged in their health care rather than to accept passively that the “doctor knows best.” It is an effort to shift away from health care delivery by paternalistic doctors of the past, and toward the contemporary active patients who take ownership of their health and participate in making decisions. As a result, doctors are framed as service providers who cater to the needs of their consumers.

But we must challenge this narrative.

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Hepatitis C Virus Infection: Another Consequence of the Opioid Epidemic

By Stephen P. Wood

And increase in diagnosis of the hepatitis C virus increase goes hand in hand with the opioid epidemic. (Zerbor/Thinkstock)

The opioid epidemic and the toll it is taking is on American lives has resulted in the declaration of a public health emergency by the Trump administration.

There were 42,000 deaths from suspected opioid overdose in 2016, more than in any previous year to date. These deaths illuminate the direct impact of the epidemic, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hepatitis C is another epidemic that goes increasingly hand-in-hand with the opioid crisis, and is likely to take a long-term toll on American lives as well. Intravenous drug use accounts for approximately 80 percent of new cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, and without intervention these numbers could continue to climb. Continue reading

The German Stem Cell Network Has Compiled a Sample Text for Informed Consent

By Sara Gerke

Sara Gerke speaking

GSCN Conference in Jena in September, 2017

At the General Meeting of the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) in Jena in September 2017, Tobias Cantz and I proposed the establishment of a new GSCN strategic working group.

This new working group, known as ELSA, focuses on the ethical, legal and social aspects of the modern life sciences. ELSA aims to serve as a country-wide interdisciplinary platform for the exchange of information and for the analysis and discussion of challenges facing basic and applied stem cell research in Germany.

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State-Level Solutions to Discrimination in Organ Transplants 

By Emily Largent

organ transplant

Doctors in North Dakota perform a kidney transplant. (Photo by ndguard/Flickr)

In recent years, alleged instances of discrimination against people with disabilities in organ transplantation have captured public attention.

In 2012, for example, the parents of Amelia Rivera, a child with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, alleged that they were told their daughter was not a candidate for a kidney transplant because of her “mental retardation.” The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia denied “disqualify[ing] transplant patients on the basis of intellectual ability.” Nevertheless, more than 51,000 individuals signed a change.org petition demanding that the hospital “allow the life saving [sic] transplant four-year-old Amelia Rivera needs to survive.”  Ultimately, Rivera received a living donor kidney transplant from her mother.

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As opioid overdose numbers rise, so does the cost of naloxone 

naloxone overdose reversal kit

Photo via bcgovphotos/Flickr

By Stephen P. Wood

Naloxone is an opioid-receptor antagonist. In other words, it has the ability to displace an opioid from the receptor site, and essentially reverse its activity to save overdose victims. However, a significant increase in the cost of naloxone has put it out of reach of the people who need it most.

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The EU’s GDPR in the Health Care Context 

Photo by Descrier/Flickr

By Sara Gerke 

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force two years ago but became directly applicable in all EU Member States only last week, aims to establish an equal level of protection for the rights and freedoms of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data in all EU Member States.

Each of us has been inundated with emails in the last few days and weeks, informing us about the GDPR and asking us, among other things, to review updated privacy policy. This flood of emails is, in particular, the consequence of the GDPR’s imposing administrative fines for infringements.

According to its territorial scope, the GDPR can also impact US companies that process personal data of data subjects who are in the EU. For example, this is the case for newspapers and affiliated websites, where the processing activities are related to the offering of services or goods, irrespective of whether payment is required. Some papers decided to simply block users in the EU, rather than abide by the GDPR’s provisions. 

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A data set that looks like America

By Oliver Kim

May marks the annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which recognizes the history and contributions of this diverse population in the United States. Accounting for that diversity though is one of the challenges facing the Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) community: for example, the Library of Congress commemorative website recognizes that AAPI is a “rather broad term” that can include

all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).

Understanding that diversity has huge policy and political implications, particularly in health policy. Continue reading

Epistemic Injustice, Disability Stigma and Public Health Law

long staircase

By Daniel Goldberg

Public health law can integrate medical and social understandings of disability in ways that promise to reduce disability stigma and enhance epistemic justice.

However, models of disability currently embedded in public health law do precisely the opposite, at least partly due to the fact that public health laws have historically assimilated medicalized models of disability.

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The Abortion Referendum in Ireland: What Happened and What’s Next?

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

Protesters in Dublin in 2012

Protesters in Dublin in 2012 call for a change to abortion laws after the death of a 31-year-old woman following a miscarriage. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

As ballots were counted in Ireland’s historic vote to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion last Saturday, an informal tally took place alongside the official count, documenting the number of miraculous medals and crucifixes found in ballot boxes, no doubt surreptitiously slipped in with a ballot by zealous voters. Ireland is a perplexing place, politically speaking. It typically holds itself out as a modern, liberal country, with an open economy, highly-educated population, and forward-thinking attitude, boasting the world’s first-ever adoption of legal same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015. It was also, until Saturday, home to one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

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Happy Birthday to our National Health Service (NHS)

By John Tingle

Our National Health Service turns 70 in July and has made remarkable achievements since its inception on July 5, 1948. The NHS is quite rightly an institution to be proud of, and it is envied across the world. Admittedly, the NHS does have its problems, but these should not detract from an overall appreciation of its core value to our society.

In 70 years a lot has happened. Nursing and medicine have evolved, new treatments, and medicines have been developed to cope with new diseases, and our concept of health has also changed.

Health is no longer just the absence of disease; it’s a far more holistic concept today.

Since its inception, the NHS has had to deal with clinical negligence claims. Today there is mounting concern that the high level and costs of clinical negligence claims threaten the very existence and fabric of the NHS.

Exactly what must be done to reduce levels and costs remains a topic of intense speculation and conjecture.

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Making “Meaningful Access” Meaningful: Equitable Healthcare for Divisive Times

By Leslie Francis

Another anniversary of President Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is coming up in late July, yet the nation remains far from offering even a semblance of equitable societal opportunity to most individuals with disabilities.

For them, full social participation is dismissed as merely an idealistic dream. With its focus on restoration of full functioning for patients, the health care delivery system might be supposed an exception, but a closer look shows the opposite is true.

Physicians’ offices, clinics, and hospitals too often have not been made accessible. Too frequently, these facilities have diagnostic or treatment equipment that some people, due to disability, cannot use. Health care provider staff are not trained to interact with or assess disabled individuals, and may be swayed by implicit biases that target disability, just as are non-medical personnel or laypersons in the population.

disability rights protest sign

Photo by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights/Flickr

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Are Ordeals a Viable Way to Improve Health Care Delivery?

By Thomas W. Feeley

We constantly hear that the American health care system is broken and badly in need of repair. Our system provides poor value in that our per capita spending is more than any other nation in the world and yet we do not have the best health outcomes.

For many years, incremental solutions have been brought forward as solutions to our health care delivery problem. Approaches such as using evidence-based guidelines, focusing on patient safety, requiring prior authorization of expensive procedures, making patients pay as customers, adopting lean, six-sigma, electronic records, and using care coordinators, to name just a few, have failed to solve the problem.

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Taking a Humanitarian Approach to the Opioid Epidemic

By Stephen P. Wood 

The opioid epidemic has been declared a public health emergency, allowing for access to public health funding, in an effort to raise awareness and deploy public health initiatives. This declaration was in response to the growing numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths in the United States.

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Introducing Blogger Nicholas Diamond

Nicholas J. Diamond, J.D., LL.M., M.B.E. is joining Bill of Health as a regular contributor.

Nick is an advisor and educator, focused on the intersection of public health, policy, and ethics. He works at an advisory firm in Washington, DC, where he helps biopharmaceutical companies, health insurers, and advocacy organizations better understand and respond to changes in the healthcare landscape. He also teaches part-time at Georgetown Law and George Washington, and holds (non-teaching) academic affiliations at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Continue reading