The landmark abortion decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt eclipsed quieter reproductive rights news out of the Supreme Court at the end of its term. It involves a couple’s claim that the Tennessee Supreme Court violated their equal protection rights by refusing to recognize “disruption of family planning as either an independent cause of action or element of damages.” You won’t have heard about this case. It wasn’t a merits judgment, but a decision not to decide. The Court’s denial of certiorari in Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis has gone all but unremarked. It shouldn’t. This post lays out the arguments and why the Court (most likely) declined to hear it on appeal (without explaining its decision, as standard for cert denials). My updated article out in next year’s Columbia Law Review elaborates on the significance of professional wrongdoing that imposes, deprives, and confounds procreation in the face of people’s best efforts to plan a family.
The dispute arose during Michelle Rye’s third pregnancy. Rye has Rh negative blood, meaning that she produces antibodies that attack the blood cells of a Rh-positive fetus, potentially leading to serious harm in a born child. Doctors nowadays easily prevent this Rh-sensitization by injecting the pregnant woman with a compound called RhoGAM. But Rye’s doctor didn’t give her that injection. Now the couple couldn’t have more children of their own without risking serious health problems. Their Catholic faith took fetal testing and abortion off the table. They couldn’t even use birth control to prevent a risky pregnancy. Rye and her husband sued the doctor (who admitted negligence) for disrupting their family plans. Tennessee courts, all the way up to the state’s Supreme Court, rejected their claim. The courts held that the couple had not suffered the kind of injury that would support a legal cause of action. The Ryes’ petition to the U.S Supreme Court argued that the state Court’s refusal to recognize their claim denied them equal protection under the law. Continue reading →
Everything went fine the last time for Melissa Cook, when the 48-year old mother of four carried a child for a family back in 2013 to supplement her office job salary. This time was different. First were the triplets. She had been impregnated with three embryos, created using eggs from a 20-something donor and sperm from the intended father who paid for everything. Then, it was that the man, Chester Moore, turned out to be a deaf 50-year-old postal worker who lived with his parents. Finally, was that Moore asked Cook to abort one of the fetuses. He said that he had run out of money to support a third child and worried the high-risk multiple pregnancy would endanger the health of any resulting children.
Cook, who is pro-life, refused. A battle over parental rights of the triplets, all boys, began even before they were born (prematurely, at 28 weeks). Moore argued that his surrogacy contract with Cook, explicitly enforceable under California law, made clear that he was the sole legal parent. Cook sued for custody, notwithstanding her prior agreement that any children resulting from the pregnancy would be his to raise. She argued that the statute, by authorizing private contracts for gestation of a human being, reduces children to “commodities” for sale, and a surrogate like her to a “breeding animal or incubator.” Continue reading →
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.
It used to be that whether you got the child you wanted — or one you hadn’t planned on — was left to cosmic fate or the randomness of reproductive biology. Now, new powers of reproductive medicine and technology promise to deliver us from the vagaries of the natural lottery.
The likes of voluntary sterilization and embryo screening give people who can afford them greater measures of control over procreation. Except, that is, when reproductive professionals make mistakes that frustrate efforts to pursue or avoid pregnancy or parenthood.
When, for example — just a few recent cases — a pharmacist fills a woman’s birth control prescription with prenatal vitamins. Or when a fertility clinic implants embryos carrying the hereditary disease that a couple underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) to screen out. Just this week comes another report of losing IVF embryos.
Surrogacy is legal in many states. Some, like California, directly enforce gestational carrier contracts. Others, like Texas, Illinois, and Virginia, enforce only those contracts that are entered into by a married couple who need a surrogate for medical reasons which a judge approves before embryo transfer occurs. A Pennsylvania court has now shown why gestational surrogacy contract should be directly enforced in the absence of legislation. Its well-reasoned opinion suggests that more states may be open to this approach to surrogacy.
The Pennsylvania case, In re Baby S., arose out of a gestational surrogacy agreement involving embryos created with donor eggs and husband sperm. The written agreement was indisputably clear that that the intended parents would be the legal rearing parents, their names would appear on the birth certificate, and the carrier would have no rearing rights or duties. Unlike previous cases questioning the validity of a surrogacy contract, the challenge here came not from the carrier who now wished to assert rearing rights (see In re Baby M and Calvert v. Johnson) but from the wife (the intended rearing mother). She had praised the carrier’s willingness to help her have a child, which she repeated both at the embryo transfer and at a 20 week ultrasound at 20 weeks of pregnancy, which both intended parents attended. A month later she informed the parties that “irreconcilable marital difficulties” would make it difficult for her to co-parent the child with the intended father. She also refused to complete the paperwork for her name to appear on the birth certificate as the mother.
Bill of Health bloggers Alex Stein and Dov Fox have just filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case of U.S. Air Force Major Heather Ortiz and her baby, who were denied legal remedies for obstetric malpractice by military doctors that left the baby with severe brain damage. The case is No. 15-488 Ortiz v. U.S. ex rel. Evans Army Community Hospital. Professors Fox and Stein urge the Court to overturn the Tenth Circuit’s holding that the federal government’s immunity against liability for intramilitary torts extends to wrongful injuries like those sustained by Major Ortiz’s baby. They argue that this holding misinterprets the immunity, misapplies the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and constitutes no less than unconstitutional sex discrimination. Fox and Stein explain:
When a civilian spouse of a serviceman receives negligent prenatal care from military doctors and delivers an injured baby as a result of that malpractice, there is no question that Feres immunity does not apply and that the baby can sue the United States under the FTCA. When military medical malpractice injures the baby of a servicewoman, this baby should be equally able to obtain redress under the FTCA. A system that would single out the civilian children of servicewomen for adverse treatment discriminates against women who serve in the armed forces. . . To interpret the FTCA as the Tenth Circuit did permits discrimination between these two classes of similarly situated victims of military malpractice and violates fundamental principles of equal protection.
Republican candidates convened last night for the first debates of the 2016 campaign. The presidential hopefuls disagreed on every topic they faced — immigration, health care, foreign policy, gay rights, the economy — all but one, that is. Their differences of opinion disappeared each time they were asked about the controversy over the recent release of an undercover video with Planned Parenthood. On the issue raised by that edited film clip, the candidates came together in a rare consensus.
All 17 — from Ted Cruz to Carly Fiorina — staunchly opposed research that uses tissue cells from aborted or miscarried fetuses. The candidates unanimously called for Congress to end its support of Planned Parenthood over its contribution to that research, with some like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal joining party leaders who would force a government shutdown over that issue. This, after Senate Republicans earlier this week failed to clear a procedural vote to defund. […]
Check out the new op-ed at HuffPo by Bill of Health bloggers Dov Fox and Alex Stein on the unfair treatment of American servicewomen (and their children) under the Feres doctrine should they fall victim to medical malpractice during their pregnancy or delivery. Fox and Stein call for SCOTUS to fix the loophole it left open in the 1950 case, or for Congress to “set up a fund for compensating children whose disabilities were caused by substandard care at military medical facilities.” Take a look at the full post here.
The legal question presented was whether the payments Perez received are tax-exempt “damages” under Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code. The court held they did not, and thus could be taxed. Judge Holmes observed that the contracts had characterized those payments as consideration for pain and suffering rather than the eggs themselves. He explained that “the injury here, as painful as it was to Perez, was exactly within the scope of the medical procedures to which she contractually consented.” Accordingly, “the payments were made not to compensate her for some unwanted invasion against her bodily integrity but to compensate her for services rendered.” Despite the pain and danger Perez incurred through the process of egg retrieval, Judge Holmes affirmed that “the money she received was not ‘damages'” because “she voluntarily signed a contract to be paid to endure” those risks. I’d be interested to learn whether readers find persuasive the Court’s provocative analogies to egg “donation”: Continue reading →
The piece was prompted by this week’s news of the white lesbian mother who sued a sperm bank for mixing up the sample she ordered with that from a black donor. The impulse to call one’s mixed-race child a “wrongful birth” gives reason, Dov argues, to rethink the racial preferences that we tend to accept without question; race-matching should be resisted for expressing the divisive notion that single-race families should be preferred to multiracial ones and that families should be set apart by race.
The Guardian and L.A. Times are the latest major news organizations to decry trans-Atlantic restrictions on blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM). The case against such categorical bans has been reignited by an influential piece that Bill of Health editor Glenn Cohen recently published with co-authors Jeremy Feigenbaum and Eli Adashi in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cohen, Feigenbaum, and Adashi make a powerful case why sexual orientation should be just one component among others used to assess the risk that blood donors might spread HIV.[i]
But their argument elides exactly what is—and isn’t—wrong with excluding men who have sex with men from donating blood. At times they suggest the longstanding U.S. ban reflects “outdated homophobic perceptions.” Yet they acknowledge that it was “well-intentioned and guided by a need to protect the integrity of the national blood supply.” Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration that enacted the lifetime MSM ban solicited guidance from the National Gay Task Force whose recommendations were adopted into Red Cross blood collection procedures.[ii] It’s unlikely the policy was motivated by animus as opposed to concern for public health.
Elsewhere, the authors imply the policy’s chief offense is that it deprives MSM of a crucial “civic opportunity.” But giving blood, even if it shares the life-saving potential of military service and registration as an organ donor, is not typically regarded as a duty of citizenship tantamount to voting or jury service.[iii] So it’s not its effects on those it excludes that makes the donor ban so bad.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not in recent years held the views of the American Psychological Association (APA) in so high regard as it did this week.
In 2012, the Court set aside the APA’s arguments for why due process requires the exclusion of eyewitness testimony obtained under suggestive circumstances that rendered it especially likely to be unreliable.
And in 2011, when the Court struck down on free speech grounds a state regulation on violent video games, it gave short shrift to the APA’s warnings about those games’ connection to violent behavior in young boys.
But in its recent death penalty decision, Florida v. Hall, the Court relied heavily on important APA insights in declaring it unconstitutional for states to set an IQ cutoff to determine whether a prisoner is eligible to receive capital punishment. Continue reading →
You know the King of Pop died in 2009 while rehearsing for a comeback tour in London. Here’s a twist you may not have heard about: Michael Jackson fan club members sued Conrad Murray, the doctor who administered the lethal overdose of anesthesia. And the celebrity enthusiasts won. A French court recently awarded five of the grieving fans economic damages (albeit just a euro each) to compensate for their emotional suffering.
The case highlights a neglected problem in our own law, not just medical malpractice, but constitutional and common law too. It’s this: Supreme Court rules and policies about harm, compulsion, and intentionality rely on the flawed assumption that operations of the mind are meaningfully distinct from those of the body. In our new essay on Dualism and Doctrine, Alex Stein and I (1) demonstrate just how this fiction distorts the law, (2) argue that the reasons for its persistence cannot save it, and (3) identify the ways in which courts should uproot dualism’s pernicious influence on our legal system. Continue reading →
Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court in Delaware issued an injunction to bar sales of a minimally invasive Medtronic replacement heart valve that putatively infringed on competitor’s Edwards Lifesciences valve system patent. After this ruling was issued, Medtronic filed an emergency motion requesting stay and expedited appeal of this injunction, contending that that “if the injunction were permitted to go into effect, treatable patients [with aortic annuli larger than 25mm for whom Edwards’ valve is not suited] may unnecessarily die in the name of already expired patent rights. Put simply, the calamity to public health that would result from the injunction is premised on a legally improper extension of patent rights” (Medtronic v. Edwards, 08-CV-0091, 2014). Shortly thereafter, The Federal Court Circuit of Appeals agreed to postpone the injunction and to expedite Medtronic’s appeal.
While still unraveling, this case offers unique insights into the important yet often overlooked dialectic between patient safety and patent rights.
New technologies can put pressure on the logic of the law. Consider the well-settled legal conclusion that equal protection rights don’t apply when police use race-based descriptions to look for suspects. An emerging forensic technique called DNA phenotyping makes it hard to defend this reliance on racial proxies–rather than appearance itself–in the investigation of crime.
Phenotyping promises to use a piece of hair or skin left at a crime scene to infer an unknown person’s physical characteristics like eye color, nose shape, and cheekbone width. A groundbreaking new study — featured in last week’s Nature, New Scientist, and Time Magazine — used high-resolution 3D images and facial recognition software to approximate the facial features of almost 600 people of mixed ancestry from their DNA.
I consider the scientific, constitutional, and criminological implications of this technology in The Second Generation of Racial Profiling. I argue that reliable DNA phenotyping would force us to rethink whether race-based suspect descriptions are the kind of racially classifying state action subject to strict scrutiny–and it would lean on the narrow tailoring requirement that the state use race-neutral alternatives when possible. I summarized my replies to the best policy objections in a short piece on The Future of Genetic Privacy:
Critics of the forensic technique argue that its adoption would imperil individual privacy and facilitate racial profiling. These objections are important, but they’re overstated. What “a person knowingly exposes to the public,” the Supreme Court has held, “is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection” against unreasonable searches and seizures. And statutory safeguards could be afforded for sensitive external traits about whether a suspect has changed genders, for example, or had plastic surgery.
Racial profiling is another concern. That the technology could be used to target minorities at disproportionate rates, however, gives no reason to think that such misuse is probable or any more likely than DNA dragnets or stop-and-question sweeps based on race-based suspect descriptions. The adoption of more precise physical markers in place of notoriously unreliable eyewitness observation would improve arrest accuracy and enhance police legitimacy.
The more serious worry is that DNA phenotyping might resurrect discredited conceptions of racial biology. If the [National Institute of Justice-funded] technology works as well as the government is banking it will, however, then replacing race-based suspect designations with the colors and shapes of facial features could, to the contrary, loosen the hold that race has on the way that people think about crime. Today’s all-points-bulletin for a “black man” could give way to tomorrow’s search for a suspect with dimples, copper complexion, and green eyes.
Wouldn’t police just filter these markers into racial terms? Maybe not, if they’re trained like clerks at a makeup counter are to trade in racial identifiers for face shapes and color tones. Besides, measures short of prohibition would likely soften whatever risk the adoption of DNA phenotyping would pose to egalitarian norms — for example, requiring higher burdens for investigatory use, or racial impact assessments of the kind that gained national prominence after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
“This technology is certainly only in its infancy as the range of testable conditions expands, physical conditions, cognitive conditions, even behavioral ones,” said Dov Fox, an assistant professor of law at the University of San Diego School of Law. “That will only further complicate how parents decide what counts as healthy or acceptable in the children that they have.”
Mail-away genetic testing promises to revolutionize the way that people learn about and manage their health. Already half a million Americans have sent their saliva to find out their risk of genetic disease — no doctors needed.
Splashed across TV sets nationwide this past summer was 23andMe’s invitation to discover “hundreds of things about your health,” including that you “might have an increased risk of heart disease, arthritis, [or] gallstones.”
Since the company’s inception in 2007, the government had allowed it to market and sell its at-home genetic tests free of regulation. For $99 and the click of a mouse, 23andMe promised a “first step in prevention” to “mitigate[e] serious diseases.”
But this winter, the Food and Drug Administration issued a letter forbidding sales of the test to diagnose health conditions unless there is evidence that it works for that purpose. Shortly after 23andMe announced that it had “suspended” all sales of its “health-related genetic tests to comply” with the FDA directive, consumers brought aclass action lawsuit against the company, alleging that it “falsely and misleadingly advertises” the genetic test “as providing ‘health reports on 240+ conditions'” in the absence of “analytical or clinical validation.”
The 23andMe controversy illustrates a stalemate over the role of direct-to-consumer genetic testing in American health care.
Those who deal in alternative ways of making families use euphemisms that obscure the market mechanisms at work when individuals ‘‘donate’’ their eggs or sperm, couples ‘‘contribute’’ their embryos, surrogates ‘‘offer’’ their wombs, and orphans are ‘‘matched’’ to adoptive parents. Make no mistake, family formation is big business. The question of first impression before a San Diego Tax Court judge is whether that business is taxable.
Nichelle Perez, like almost 17,000 other women every year in the U.S. alone, received payment (in her case $20,000) for providing her eggs to the infertile through an invasive and risky process of ‘‘superovulation.’’ When the IRS sought to tax that payment as business earnings from self-employment, Perez objected that it ought to be exempted, lest she ‘‘be penalized for doing something good for another person.”
Should the sale of eggs that have grown inside a woman’s body be taxed like property that’s subject to a long-term capital gain? Or does the pain and suffering that the transaction involves make it more like a settlement from a personal-injury lawsuit? Does the answer turn on the legal (or moral) status of human eggs? Or on whether the conditions under which a woman agrees to their extraction are meaningfully ‘‘voluntary’’?
Bill of Health Contributor Dov Fox was interviewed today on NPR’s “Marketplace” about the FDA’s decision to ban all sales of direct-to-consumer genetic testing by 23andMe.
23andMe provides information about genetic health risks to people who buy at-home “DNA spit kits.” The company seeks to inform consumers about their susceptibility to more than 250 diseases. But the FDA now says the company hasn’t proved the tests are accurate enough, and the agency is worried Americans are relying on the results instead of visiting their doctor. The FDA exercised its jurisdiction under the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act to regulate the DNA spit kits as a genetic device used in the diagnosis or treatment of disease.
“This field of personalized medicine is really in its infancy,” said Fox, “and its terrifically exciting what we might learn one day, but its just not there yet. 23andMe hasn’t shown that their reports about your health from your genes alone are all that useful. They’re just not accurate at this time in the way that the FDA requires.”
Critics say regulators are standing in the way of consumers having the convenience of obtaining information about their own health at a reasonable price point without an expensive trip to the doctor. According to Fox, it’s a powerful argument that is often made by genetic testing companies such as 23andMe. The problem is the public’s understanding of genetics is very low. “These tests,” he argued, “come not only with limited accuracy, but also without the benefit of genetic counseling.”
In a new piece at the Huffington Post, Bill of Health Contributor Dov Fox explores “The Forgotten Holding of Roe v. Wade“ — that states have a valid reason to regulate reproductive conduct because of an interest in “potential life.”
That “the State may [legitimately] assert” that interest, Roe held, “as long as at leastpotential life is involved,” explains why the government may, as a constitutional matter, restrict stem cell research that destroys human embryos, for example, whether or not those frozen embryos might otherwise be brought to term. That the fetus “represents only thepotentiality of life,” on the other hand, and accordingly lacks any interests of its own under the Constitution, explains why states may not, as many have tried, accord the legal status of personhood to human life beginning at conception.
The potential-life holding helps to resolve these and many other disputes over embryo contracts, fetal pain, and sex selection, for example, as I show in a forthcoming article. Arecent lawsuit exemplifies the enduring significance of Roe‘s potential-life holding. The case marks the first-ever federal challenge to fetal protection laws that punish women for using drugs during pregnancy.