Honing the Emerging Right to Stop Eating and Drinking

By Norman L. Cantor

A stricken medical patient has a well-established right to reject life-extending medical interventions.  A person afflicted with pulmonary disease is entitled to reject a respirator, a person with kidney dysfunction can reject dialysis, and a person with a swallowing disorder can reject artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH).  State and federal courts uniformly invoke competent patients’ interests in self-determination and bodily integrity to uphold a patient’s prerogative to shape their own medical course.  The patient’s right extends not just to intrusive machinery, but also to simplistic, non-burdensome medical intrusions like an I.V. tube or a blood transfusion.

Some patients facing fatal or seriously degenerative conditions seek to hasten their demise by voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) before the stage of decline when they are dependent on life-sustaining medical intervention.  They see SED as a way to shorten their ordeal by precipitating death by dehydration within 14 days while receiving mild palliative intervention to foreclose distress before slipping into a terminal coma. The SED process entails days of lingering incapacity and is a distasteful prospect for some patients.  But it is regarded by other patients as a relatively quick, peaceful, and humane way of ending a mortal struggle now deemed to be intolerably arduous.

Numerous medico-legal commentators, myself included,[1] have asserted that a stricken patient has “a right” to VSED.   These commentators associate a patient’s decision to cease nutrition and hydration with the established constitutional right to reject life-sustaining medical intervention.  They note that the fasting person is invoking bodily integrity – precluding any feeding spoon from penetrating their mouth or nutritional tube from being inserted into their body – as well as autonomy in shaping a response to a serious affliction.   They also observe that the proffered succor (in the form of forced feeding or artificial nutrition) demands medically skilled intervention generally subject to a competent patient’s control.

The formal legal authority is thin.  Commentators point to several lower court decisions where judges refused to authorize medical override of a fasting patient.  No high level judicial body has spoken to the precise issue. Continue reading

Loneliness as epidemic

By Wendy S. Salkin

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article confirming that, indeed, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. There is “mounting evidence” that links loneliness to illness, as well as “functional and cognitive decline.” What’s more, loneliness turns out to be a better predictor of early death than obesity.

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has spent much of his career working on loneliness, defines “loneliness” as “perceived social isolation.” Similarly, Masi, et al. (following Russell, et al. 1980) define “loneliness” as “the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.” As Masi, et al., point out, there is a distinction to be made between loneliness, on the one hand, and social isolation, on the other, although the two phenomena may indeed often go together. Whereas social isolation “reflects an objective measure of social interactions and relationships,” loneliness “reflects perceived social isolation or outcast.” Following Peplau & Perlman 1982 and Wheeler, et al. 1983, they go on to point out that “loneliness is more closely associated with the quality than the number of relationships.” (It’s important and timely to note that the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan, brought out one application of this conceptual distinction in his song, “Marchin’ to the City,” when he sang: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”)

The health risks posed by loneliness are several and can be severe. Loneliness can contribute to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Heart, Valtorta, et al., reported that “poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD [coronary heart disease] and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.” And in a March 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Holt-Lunstad, et al., reported that a substantial body of evidence supports the following two claims:

  1. Loneliness puts one at greater risk for premature mortality. In particular, “the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”
  2. The heightened risk for mortality due to “a lack of social relationships” (whether reported loneliness, social isolation, or living alone) is greater than the risk due to obesity.

Continue reading

CMS Prohibits Arbitration Clauses in Long-Term Care Facility Contracts

By Wendy S. Salkin

On Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)—an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—released a final rule that “will revise the requirements that Long-Term Care facilities [LTCs] must meet to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs” (1). (Almost all LTCs receive funds from Medicare or Medicaid.) This is the first time that these requirements have been “comprehensively reviewed and updated since 1991” (6)—that is, in the past 25 years. One of the most striking changes to the regulation is found in §483.65, where CMS “require[es] that facilities must not enter into an agreement for binding arbitration with a resident or their representative until after a dispute arises between the parties” (12) which means that CMS is “prohibiting the use of pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements” (12). Among the reasons provided by CMS for this change is a recognition of the notable power differential between LTCs and their residents:

There is a significant differential in bargaining power between LTC facility residents and LTC facilities. LTC agreements are often made when the would-be resident is physically and possibly mentally impaired, and is encountering such a facility for the first time. In many cases, geographic and financial restrictions severely limit the choices available to a LTC resident and his/her family. LTC facilities are also, in many cases, the resident’s residence. These facilities not only provide skilled nursing care, but also everything else a resident needs. Many of these residents may reside there for a prolonged period of time, some for the rest of their lives. Because of the wide array of services provided and the length of time the resident and his/her family may have interactions with the LTC facility, disputes over medical treatment, personal safety, treatment of residents, and quality of services provided are likely to occur. Given the unique circumstances of LTC facilities, we have concluded that it is unconscionable for LTC facilities to demand, as a condition of admission, that residents or their representatives sign a pre-dispute agreement for binding arbitration that covers any type of disputes between the parties for the duration of the resident’s entire stay, which could be for many years. (402-403)

As The New York Times reported, when the rule was first proposed in July 2015, it was “aimed at improving disclosure.” But, this final version of the rule “went a step further than the draft, cutting off funding to facilities that require arbitration clauses as a condition of admission.”

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

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

Is It Immoral for Me to Dictate an Accelerated Death for My Future Demented Self?

by Norman L. Cantor

I am obsessed with avoiding severe dementia. As a person who has always valued intellectual function, the prospect of lingering in a dysfunctional cognitive state is distasteful — an intolerable indignity. For me, such mental debilitation soils the remembrances to be left with my survivors and undermines the life narrative as a vibrant, thinking, and articulate figure that I assiduously cultivated. (Burdening others is also a distasteful prospect, but it is the vision of intolerable indignity that drives my planning of how to respond to a diagnosis of progressive dementia such as Alzheimers).

My initial plan was to engineer my own demise while still competent to do so. My sketch of methodologies and my preferred course (stopping eating and drinking) appear at: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/billofhealth/2015/04/16/my-plan-to-avoid-the-ravages-of-extreme-dementia/. The obvious hazard in that plan is cutting short a still vibrant and satisfactory existence.

An alternative strategy would be to allow myself to decline into incompetency, but beforehand to dictate, in an advance directive, rejection of future life-sustaining medical interventions. This strategy would probably work as applied to serious maladies such as kidney disease, lethal cancer, or congestive heart failure. The disturbing issue then becomes timing. The onset of such serious maladies is fortuitous and years of lingering in dementia might precede my demise.

A further alternative would be to seek to accelerate my post-competence demise by declining not only major medical interventions such as mechanical respirators or dialysis, but also more simplistic items like antibiotics, antiarrhythmics, and artificial nutrition and hydration. My envisioned scenario is that infection would occur early (via urinary tract, skin, or pneumonia) and that this condition, left untreated, would precipitate my death. (My advance instructions would allow palliative but not curative measures.)

Continue reading

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why a New Alzheimer’s Drug Isn’t A No-Brainer

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Biogen, a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company, announced last week that early tests of their new drug aducanumab, a monoclonal antibody, had shown impressive results in treating those with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. The drug significantly reduced the amyloid plaque buildup in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s.

In a very early stage safety test aducanumab slowed the cognitive decline and dementia associated with Alzheimer’s in people. On the Mini Mental Status Exam, a widely used measure of cognitive function, people at risk of Alzheimer’s who got a placebo lost around 3 points over a year. But those who got the lowest dose of aducanumab worsened by just two points and those who got a higher dose lost less than a point.

Biogen was so excited by the early results in 166 volunteers that it is going to try to go directly to a much bigger clinical trial of the drug. Wall Street was very excited too—Biogen’s stock price shot up 10 percent. […]

See the full article here.

AALS Call for Papers on the Unbefriended Elderly

Call for Papers, AALS Joint Program
Section on Aging and the Law  ●  Section on Law, Medicine, and Health Care
2015 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
January 3, 2015 from 3:30 to 5:15 p.m.
Unbefriended Elderly: 
Making Medical Treatment Decisions for Patients without Surrogates

The AALS Section on Aging and the Law and the AALS Section on Law, Medicine, and Health Care are sponsoring a joint program at the January 2015 Annual Meeting.  The program will consider many of the issues faced by elders, doctors, and the health care and social services systems when making medical treatment decisions for those incapacitated patients and residents who have no reasonably available legally authorized decision maker.

There are three confirmed panelists for this program:

(1)  Ellen Fox, MD, former Chief Officer for Ethics in Health Care, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

(2) Professor Lawrence A. Frolik, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

(3) Erica Wood, JD, Assistant Director, ABA Commission on Law and Aging

Two additional panelists will be selected through this call for papers.  Either paper proposals or completed papers are acceptable for submission.  Selected panelists may receive an offer for publication from the Journal of International Aging, Law & Policy, a joint publication of Stetson University College of Law and AARP.  The Journal is interested in papers that have an international or comparative component.  Acceptance of a publication offer is not a condition for serving as a panelist.  There is no formal requirement as to length of the proposal or final paper.  Preference will be given to papers that offer novel scholarly insights on the panel topic.  A paper may have already been accepted for publication as long as it will not be published prior to the Annual Meeting.

A successful proposal may focus on the broader legal, medical, or social aspects of making medical treatment decisions for patients without surrogates.  Also welcome are proposals that focus on ways to prevent patients from becoming unbefriended in the first place.  This could include analysis of: (a) broader default surrogate laws, (b) better advance care planning, or (c) more effective public guardianship procedures.  Narrative pieces concerning the administrative and regulatory issues presented will also be considered.

Paper proposals will be reviewed by a committee of law professors from both AALS sections.

Please submit your paper or proposal by Friday, August 31, 2014 at 5:00 p.m.  Please send it BOTH to Mark Bauer (Chair, AALS Section on Aging and the Law), Stetson University College of Law, mbauer at law.stetson.edu; and to Thaddeus Pope (Chair-Elect, Section on Law, Medicine, and Health Care), Hamline University School of Law, tpope01 at hamline.edu.

Biomarker Epistemology, Cognitive Decline, and Alzheimer’s Disease

By Matthew L Baum

This past Sunday, a group of researchers reported in the journal, Nature Medicine, a preliminary technique that uses variation in blood levels of 10 fats to predict the likelihood that elderly individuals would develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s Disease in the following 2-3 years. The sample size was small and the results may not generalize beyond the narrow age-range and demographics of the study group (i.e. the assay is far from ready for “prime time”), but the study is an important first step towards a lower cost (vs PET imaging) and less invasive (vs spinal tap) predictive biomarker of cognitive decline*. Its publication has also triggered a flurry of discussion on possible ethical ramifications of this sort of blood biomarker. I will not attempt to address these ethical issues specifically here. Rather, I seek to highlight that how ethically troubling one views the technology to be may depend partly on the sort of knowledge one thinks these biomarkers reveal (applied epistemology at its best).

Continue reading

Capsule Endoscopy Instead of Colonoscopy? The FDA Approves the PillCam COLON

By Jonathan J. Darrow

In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the PillCam COLON 2 as a minimally-invasive means of viewing the colon, a development that is sure to be welcomed by U.S. patients who currently undergo an estimated 14 million colonoscopies each year.  While the approval represents a major step forward, the PillCam is unlikely to supplant current procedures just yet.

The colon has traditionally been examined via optical colonoscopy, a procedure perceived by many to be uncomfortable and embarrassing that involves insertion through the rectum of a 5-6 foot long flexible tube as part of an examination that can take 30 to 60 minutes. Air must be pumped in through the rectum in a process called “insufflation.” Sedatives and pain medication are generally used to help relieve discomfort. In contrast, the PillCam COLON contains a power source, light source, and two tiny cameras encapsulated in an easy-to-swallow pill that produces no pain or even sensation as it moves through the colon. Reflecting the absence of discomfort, one report from a clinical researcher noted that a few patients have insisted on X-rays to confirm that the device had passed in their stool (FDA Consumer). The pill takes about 30,000 pictures before passing naturally from the body, which usually occurs before the end of its 10-hour battery life.

The safety record of capsule endoscopy, the category to which the PillCam COLON belongs, so far appears to compare favorably with the alternatives. Capsule endoscopy may be less likely to produce accidental colonic perforations or other serious complications, which occur in less than 1% of traditional colonoscopies despite the best efforts of the treating physician. Tears of the colon wall can in turn “rapidly progress to peritonitis and sepsis, carrying significant morbidity and mortality.” (Adam J. Hanson et al., Laparoscopic Repair of Colonoscopic Perforations: Indications and Guidelines, 11 J. Gastrointest. Surg. 655, 655 (2007)). Splenic injury or other serious complications also occur rarely with optical colonoscopies. Unlike “virtual colonoscopy,” which uses computed tomography (CT) to peer into the body, capsule endoscopy does not involve bombarding the body with radiation. A leading study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported no serious adverse events among 320 subjects given the PillCam COLON, and concluded that use of the device was “a safe method of visualizing the colonic mucosa through colon fluids without the need for sedation or insufflation.” Continue reading

News from OMHA Appellants Forum: Statistical Sampling Coming, Backlog Growing

Yesterday the HHS Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) held a forum for appellants affected by its decision, which I blogged about last month, to hold off on assigning incoming appeals to ALJs while they work to clear a large backlog.  I was able to go, and enjoyed every minute.  This issue has received its share of attention in the news (Washington Post here, National Review online here), as well as controversy (see here and here), but I have not yet seen an article discussing some of the policy developments that came out of yesterday’s forum.  So I am going to play journalist for a minute, rather than academic, and share yesterday’s developments.  There were a lot of them: Continue reading

Live Blogging from FDA in the 21st Century Conference, Panel 1: FDA in a Changing World

[This is off-the-cuff live blogging, so apologies for any errors, typos, etc]

Panel 1: FDA in a Changing World: Lewis Grossman, Ted Ruger, Barbara Evans, moderated by Holly Fernandez Lynch

Lewis Grossman, FDA in the Age of the Empowered Consumer

Begins his analysis by comparing a hypothetical consumer in 1960 and today.

Consumer was passive. Today’s consumer is active, more unmediated choice, more direct citizen involvement.

Why the change? 1970 was the decade of advocacy, culminating in 1972 Patient’s Bill of Rights from AMA. Central them was informed consent and thus complete information from physician.

1998 saw disruption of WebMd and now even more disrupted by web search technology which is how most patients get there info.

Food: 1966, recipe standards. Relatively little variety and consumer choice. Very little info on  nutrition, “batman white bread.” Turning point was 1969 White House conference that led to more choice and more info.

Health clams as the portal where 1st Amendment law entered into FDA law. The image of the intelligent consumer who need not be shielded from information.

Changes in standard by which FDA decided if something was misleading. Until 2002 unsure if reasonable or gullible consumer standard. In 2002 for food FDA chose the reasonable consumer standard.

Liberal and conservatives got scrambled on these matters in interesting ways.

Also a revolution in advertising, leading to revolution of patient’s relationship to his or her drugs.

Continue reading

Twitter Round-Up (3/31-4/6)

By Casey Thomson

This week’s slightly belated round-up concerns palliative care across cultures, the threat and problems of over-prescribing, and Big Pharma’s failure to create prices with the patient in mind. Read on for more from this week’s round-up.

  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) retweeted a piece on the lessons learned by Dr. Vvjeyanthi “V.J.” Periyakoil on how to approach palliative care for patients from a variety of backgrounds in ways that both extend life and fulfill the desires of the patient (in particular, reducing pain). (4/3)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) also retweeted an opinion piece in the NYT about the growing trend towards self- and over-medication, and the problems of overextending definitions of medical ‘conditions.’ As the piece’s author summarized: “The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears.” (4/3)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) retweeted a link on two new wrongful death lawsuits against the NFL, which claim that the NFL withheld knowledge of the risks associated with concussions from players, that have been added to the string of other brain injury lawsuits filed against the league. (4/3)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) additionally retweeted a blog post on the striking results of a new study comparing male and female mortality amongst counties in the United States. While male mortality increased in only 34% of counties from 1992-1996 to 2002-2006, female mortality increased in 42.8%. This brings up questions concerning the cause of this demographic and largely geographic inequality, and what such a differential could mean on the health of dependents (children). (4/3)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) posted another article that put the recent New York “True Cost” campaign in historical context. The article called the campaign a “modern manifestation of…anxieties about the ‘contagion’ of working class and poor communities,” comparing it to the World War II-era venereal disease campaigns and the case of Typhoid Mary as all moralizing weapons aiming to instill shame rather than promote actual solutions to public health concerns. (4/4)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) linked to his own discussion of the problem with Novartis and India, noting that emphasis has been wrongly placed on patents when the concern should be on pharma’s hesitancy to create a pricing strategy that can provide medications for those who cannot afford huge prices. This unwillingness to do so, he claims, is violating a moral obligation. (4/4)

Twitter Round-Up (2/16-2/23)

By Casey Thomson

This week’s round-up discusses the upcoming cases relevant to bioethics in the Supreme Court, the benefits of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, the surprisingly low effectiveness rate of this year’s flu vaccine, and the problems with ACA’s Accountable Care Organizations. See below for details and more summaries:

  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) shared a post on what’s being called the “alcoholism vaccine” being developed at the Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology at Universidad de Chile. The vaccine, which would have to be administered every 6 months or year, would mimic the alcohol intolerance mutation that prevents the breaking down of acetaldehyde and produces an instant “hangover-type” state. (2/16)
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) retweeted a timeline from the Center for Law and Bioscience at Stanford Law’s blog giving dates for the upcoming Supreme Court cases relating to biosciences. (2/17)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) additionally included a piece on the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would “[require] manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and biologics to report the monetary value of gifts and payments to doctors and teaching hospitals on a publicly accessible website.” The author of the piece, a family physician with 15 years of experience, discussed his support for the plan. (2/17)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted a link explaining the scientific foundations of the Brain Activity Map Project, namely how it aims at “reconstructing the full record of neural activity across complete neural circuits” to better understand “fundamental and pathological brain processes.” (2/18)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) posted a news story on police arresting those involved in the illegal harvesting of eggs from women in Bucharest, Romania. The police reports claim that 11 suspects have been implicated in the trafficking, which would harvest the eggs to be sold to Israeli couples with fertility problems. (2/19)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) retweeted a link to his post on asking about a patient’s PPD (preferred place of death), noting that this is not one of the concerns often cited as part of advanced planning procedures. Such a practice was considered “vital” in the UK, in contrast. (2/20)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) shared a link to a post on the blog he co-runs, GeriPal, on “Five Things Patients and Physicians Should Question in Palliative Care and Geriatrics.” The post shares the two lists posted by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), which Smith claims “provide targeted, evidence-based recommendations to help physicians and patients have conversations about making wise choices about their care in order to avoid interventions that provide little to no benefit.” (2/21)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) also included a link reviewing the low effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine: there was evidence that it was only effective in 56% of the cases, on the low end of the usual 50-70% effectiveness rate. His tweet noted that this was strong evidence in favor of mandating the vaccine for healthcare workers. (2/21)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) posted an op-ed piece by The Wall Street Journal about the problems with Affordable Care Act’s Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), namely their false assumptions: that success can come without changing doctor behavior, and without changing patient behavior, in a way that will save money. (2/23)

Twitter Round-Up (1/13-1/19)

By Casey Thomson
The flu, gun control, and legal action against the FDA – all amongst our Twitter feeds this past week. Read on for more:
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) retweeted a link to the FDA’s current legal trouble concerning their failure to disclose antibiotic resistance data. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is accusing the FDA of violating the freedom of information law, failing to release data on antibiotic drug usage within the meat industry in order to, as they claim, protect industry secrets. This failure takes special significance when considering that, according to GAP, “80% of all antibiotics sold in the US are utilized by the meat industry.” (1/14)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted an article in the Health Affairs Blog concerning how to improve the Learning Healthcare System (LHS), which adapts data into knowledge that directs evidence-based practice and health system change. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is developing two approaches, namely Point-of-Care Research (“a method of performing clinical trials within the daily practicalities of the [health-care system] (with the intent of advancing these systems to LHS)”), and the Collaborative Research to Enhance and Advance Transformation and Excellence (strengthening health services research, which analyzes the factors regarding the obtainment of care). (1/14)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) reported on the American College of Physicians’ new recommendation that all healthcare providers receive the influenza vaccine for this particularly harsh flu season, in addition to other listed immunizations. (1/15)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) additionally added a post on the inequality of the 2012-2013 flu outbreak – namely, the disproportionate number of lower-income individuals who are contracting the illness. The article noted the results of a study which found that while the majority of efforts for vaccinations occur in more wealthy neighborhoods, covering poorer neighborhoods with vaccine care early benefits the wealthier neighborhoods more so than if such vaccinations were delayed. (1/16)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) also shared a link to an examination into New York’s newly passed major gun control law, which addressed gun control ownership of those with mental illness. Caplan dissolved claims that the new measures were “draconian,” noting that such practices of reporting individuals that may pose concern for the safety of others have already been in practice but that these new policies make the process of reporting a legal imperative, and simpler.
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) shared an article on SAGE Journals about the experience of gender within the healthcare science environment, specifically looking at the subtle practices of masculinist actions taking place that may remain unnoticed or unchallenged. The report is based on the discussed experiences of healthcare scientists with men in healthcare science laboratories. (1/16)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) linked to an article on an intervention for “post-hospital syndrome”, commonly known as the Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit. The intervention, while evidence-based and already in place in many hospital locations, may be overlooked by practitioners or healthcare authors. This unit works to reduce the effects that often derive largely from the “allostatic and psychological stress” accumulated during a hospital stay. (1/18)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) posted a report on bias in reporting on breast cancer clinical trials. The study found that “nearly one-third of reports on large, randomized studies over-emphasize some benefits of therapy,” in addition to providing “insufficient attention or discussion of treatment side effects.” Considering that such reports factor prominently in how doctors decide to pursue treatment and therapy for patients, this misreporting leaves many doctors unaware of the true consequences of tested treatments – and may cause them to decide plans for treatment that they would not otherwise pursue. (1/19)

Note: As mentioned in previous posts, retweeting should not be considered as an endorsement of or agreement with the content of the original tweet.

Twitter Round-Up 1/1-1/13

By Casey Thomson

Due to the string of December holidays and some traveling by the round-up author, this post belatedly summarizes tweets from the end of 2012 to the beginning days of the new year. The round-up will resume a regular schedule following the conclusion of this week. Read below for this (extended) round-up:

  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) posted an article about China’s growing obesity problem, one that shocks those who remember the Great Famine of 1958-61 and which is still largely minimized by government officials. The total number of obese individuals in China has risen from 25% in 2002 to 38.5% in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. (1/1)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) also tweeted this blog post on the possibilities of cyborgs, a potential reality that a recent BBC article notes may not be too distant. Such an invention could potentially result in direct mental control of machines, augmented intelligence, augmented learning, and mood modification, among other benefits, postulates the article author. (1/1)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) additionally posted a piece addressing the idea of love between humans and robots. (1/3)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) announced the release of PREPARE, an online advanced care planning tool meant for individuals to foster communication skills and prepare for decision-making rather than make premature plans. The project in part is meant to help empower individuals rather than have them tied to the medical establishment. (1/4)
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) included a blog post on crowd-funding personalized bioscience, particularly summarizing companies aiming to contribute outside the genetics realm. This includes sequencing the gut microbiome and noting biomarker concentrations through the blood. (1/7)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) posted an article decrying the paternalistic attitudes surrounding the release of genetic information to patients. Not only does this article claim that “People are smarter & more resilient [re #genetic info] than ethic debates give them credit for”, as Meyer references from the article, but it also recognizes that the complexities of the genome do not make it less necessary for doctors to figure out how to discuss it with the public. (1/7)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) also posted about the Supreme Court’s decision regarding a case on government funding of embryonic stem cell research. SCOTUS declined to hear an appeal to stop the research, which opponents claimed was in violation of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law. (1/7)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) posted about a recent study on the influence of body weight and gender on courtroom judgments. The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that only an obese female was punished when in consideration along with a lean male, an obese male, and a lean female. Goldberg notes in his tweet that the results are “unreal but sadly [unsurprising]”. (1/8)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) retweeted an article lamenting the continued fall of fellowship trained geriatricians, which noted that the decrease in numbers is surprising considering that a boost from the Affordable Care Act raises a geriatrician’s annual salary by 12 percent through 2015. (1/9)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) shared a link on a sperm donor custody case in Kansas where the sperm provider thought he had absolved any connection to the child that his sperm would create, but is now being called upon to pay child support. While similar cases have not received as much media attention, the concept – being responsible financially as a result of having genetic ties to a child – has come up in cases involving fathers who were deceased yet were called to pay through their estate, and even in a similar sperm donor case in Pennsylvania in 2011. (1/10)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) posted an article discussing the recent move by  various healthcare centers requiring their health practitioners (doctors and nurses alike) to get a flu vaccine – possibly at the risk of their job. Should this be grounds for termination, or should the healthcare providers have the same choice to abstain from vaccination as does a patient? (1/13)

Note: As mentioned in previous posts, retweeting should not be considered as an endorsement of or agreement with the content of the original tweet.

On Behalf of John Robertson: May Guardians Terminate Treatment Without Judicial Review?

(Note, posting on behalf of John Robertson):

Legal questions about end-of-life decisions have moved on since the paradigm-setting battles in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  It is now clearly established that a competent person has the right to refuse needed medical treatment and to make binding advance directives about treatment if she becomes incompetent.  Physician-assisted suicide is a policy choice for states, not a constitutional right.  National debate now focuses on providing palliative care rather than high-tech interventions to prolong  fading life.  Cost reduction consistent with these values remain an omnipresent dilemma.

Sticky legal issues, however, remain, particularly with regard to the care of incompetent patients, as a Minnesota trial court recently reminded us (In re the Guardianship of Jeffers J. Tschumy, Hennepin County District Court, Fourth Judicial District, #27-GC-PR-07-496, October 18, 2012).   The question before the court was whether a broad grant of power to a guardian to make decisions about consenting or not consenting to medical treatment includes the power to have treatment terminated that will result in the ward’s death.  While allowing treatment to be withheld in that case, the court decided that only a judge, not the guardian on his own, could make that decision.  An appeal is now pending.

The court’s opinion catalogued the main arguments for each position before coming down on the side of judicial review.  Allowing the guardian to decide without court review was supported by the broad language of powers granted to guardians—to make decision about providing or withholding medical treatment—and the legislature’s failure to list termination of treatment as something that was explicitly denied the guardian (as it had done with certain other procedures).  It would also be quicker and less cumbersome, expensive, and burdensome  both for judges and family members to have guardians empowered to terminate treatment.

On the other side were the argument that the awesome power to end life was not specifically granted the guardian, and the fact that guardians are often appointed years before such decisions must be made.  At that time of appointment there is usually little thought of ending the life at some future time, and guardians so appointed may have not expertise or training in such matters.  The court concluded that until the legislature decided otherwise, a guardian would have to return to court for permission to end treatment that would result in the ward’s death.

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Twitter Round-Up (12/9-12/15)

By Casey Thomson
This week’s round-up looks at the problems of substandard drug prevalence abroad, NIH’s possible push for an anonymous grant-awarding process, and the Liverpool Care Pathway investigation. Check it out below!
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) included a link to a report on the recent launch of Personal Genome Launch Canada. The post includes links to help navigate the content and learn more about the intricacies of this project. (12/9)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) shared a post on the benefits and detriments of raising the age of Medicare eligibility from age 65 to 67 – an idea that has recently gained sway in the political arena. The author ultimately concludes that the move would only be a matter of cost shifting rather than cost saving, and thus harm the disenfranchised 65-66 year-olds that would front the cost. (12/10)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) also included this article on Dr. Oz’s wrongful diagnosis on organics. While concerns about finances must indeed be taken into consideration when families decide what foods to purchase, families must also be concerned about the presence of pesticides in their food. Organic food, while more expensive, avoids this health hazard. (12/10)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) additionally linked to this report on the preponderance of substandard (and oftentimes, consequentially lethal) drugs particularly in emerging markets. Efforts to crackdown on substandard drugs have thus far focused largely on counterfeit drugs, rather than those that are the result of “shoddy manufacturing and handling…or deliberate corner cutting,” which constitute an arguably much greater public health threat. (12/10)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) shared this post on the prevalence of worthless clinical practice guidelines. The article notes the need to distinguish the guidelines that meet much of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) quality criteria from the rest. (12/10)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) linked to a blog post on advance care planning and the gap between the needs of the healthcare system and those of patients. Currently, much of the paperwork required for advance directives is given without providing families and patients concrete skills needed for both identifying their desires and communicating such desires to direct their own medical care. This article calls for refocusing on providing direct patient empowerment in addition to the existing efforts to improve clinician communication in order to facilitate the ability of advance care planning to reflect the patient’s wishes. (12/11)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted an article about the NIH’s consideration of introducing anonymity into the grant-awarding process in order to alleviate some of the concerns with bias that have long-plagued the agency. (12/12)
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) also posted a report on BGI, a world-leading DNA sequencing organization based in China, and their commercial expansion efforts into the healthcare, agriculture, and aquaculture sectors. The question of whether BGI is more a research institute or commercial enterprise comes into question in the article. (12/12)
  • Stephen Latham (@StephenLatham) included a link to his own blog post on the recently renewed controversy concerning the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient (LCP), particularly as to whether patients put on the LCP had a discussion with their care providers prior to the decision and whether hospitals were wrongly putting patients on the pathway. The talk of scandal sparked an independent investigation into the LCP; Latham’s article expressed his hope for thoroughness in the investigation and for serious consideration on how to renew the LCP effectively. (12/12)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) posted a link concerning the implications of 23andMe, a personalized genomics company, and their launch of the $99 genetic test in the hopes of inspiring greater numbers to get tested. The article’s author reflects on how the real benefit will likely not be immediate for individuals, but will rather depend on the chance that greater data will lead to more breakthroughs in understanding the human genome. (12/14)

Note: As mentioned in previous posts, retweeting should not be considered as an endorsement of or agreement with the content of the original tweet.

Twitter Round-Up (12/2-12/8)

By Casey Thomson
This week’s Twitter Round-Up features an “American Idol-style” selection of research grant winners, the problems facing children in Syria attempting to be vaccinated, and a review of where we stand with current patient health information privacy and security.
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted an article about a newly emerging landmark case in the United Kingdom. In the suit, a childless couple denied IVF funding due to the woman’s age is suing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (because he is “ultimately accountable for healthcare in England”) on the basis of age discrimination. Thought to be the first venture to sue the Health Secretary concerning decisions about this NHS fund rationing, this case also will be the first instance where age discrimination laws have been employed to try for fertility treatment. (12/3)
  • Alex Smith (@AlexSmithMD) shared an article about a problem patients must deal with when approaching post-hospitalization care: Medicare’s offer to pay for hospice care or for a Skilled Nursing Facility (S.N.F.), but only rarely at the same time. Not only does the choice create a financial predicament, but it also has extensive repercussions for the patient’s health. Calls for a combined benefit process between hospice/palliative care and S.N.F. have been made, including a proposed “concurrent care” demonstration project in the Affordable Care Act. (12/6)
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) linked to a summary of the Ponemon Institute’s Third Annual Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy & Data Security, reporting on the challenges still being faced to safeguard protected health information (“PHI”). (12/6)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) additionally retweeted a link explaining Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s attempt to deal with the rising difficulty of choosing which research grants to support: an “American Idol-style” public online voting. With almost 6,500 votes cast, the public engagement experiment picked a project hoping to research methods for integrating genomic sequencing into newborns’ routine medical care. When future grant holders are struggling to award between a set of equally deserving project proposals, this push for public involvement (after having confirmed scientific rigor) may have intriguing implications. (12/6)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) also linked to a study in Denmark testing the relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and blood pressure levels. Despite having a healthcare system that is free and equal-access regardless of factors like SES, the study found that SES had a “significant effect on BP [blood pressure] control” in this survey. (12/7)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) posted a report by UNICEF on the efforts by parents in the Syrian Arab Republic to get their children vaccinated. With many medical centers destroyed by the conflict, and with health practitioners having to operate and transport supplies in the dangerous environment, children have been unable to receive routine vaccinations for several months. This campaign aims to provide such vaccinations (specifically for measles and polio) to children, having advertised via churches, mosques, schools, television, and even by SMS to get greater coverage. (12/7)
  • Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) included a book review of Pharmageddon by David Healy, a look at how pharmaceutical companies are excessively influencing the medical industry particularly with “diagnostic categories and clinical guidelines.” The result, according to Healy: a society where people “think about their bodies as a bundle of risks to be managed by drugs,” with a workforce that is “getting ‘sicker,'” and with “major pharmaceutical companies…banking on further overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” all “undermining universal health care.” (12/8)

Note: As mentioned in previous posts, retweeting should not be considered as an endorsement of or agreement with the content of the original tweet.

Art Caplan: MA Should Legalize Physician-Assisted Suicide

Weighing in on Question 2, Massachusetts’ ballot initiative on physician-assisted suicide, Art Caplan says we should vote “yes”:

Mass. should legalize physician-assisted suicide

Of the numerous ballot initiatives that will be decided at the state level on Tuesday, none is more hotly contested than the Massachusetts bill to decide whether to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The citizens of Massachusetts, my home state, should vote to legalize.

The proposed measure allows terminally ill patients to be given access to lethal drugs. A terminally ill patient is defined as someone with six months or less to live. The patient’s terminal diagnosis and mental competency must be attested to by two doctors. Patients would have to make a request to their doctor twice orally and once in writing. The written request would have to be witnessed.

Yet even with such restrictive conditions, opponents of the proposal say doctors should never, as a matter of professional ethics, intentionally hasten the death of one of their patients, even one who is terminally ill. The codes of medicine and nursing ethics reject helping patients die.

Keep reading…