The Mexico City Rule and Maternal Death

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

The ‘Mexico City Rule’ is a Reagan-era regulation which bars US funding to worldwide NGOs which provide counselling relating to abortion, or referrals for abortion services, or which advocate for the expansion of abortion access. The regulation is a sticking point for the two-party reality of US politics, and has been rescinded by every Democratic president since Reagan, and reinstated by each Republican president. Trump is no exception, and his administration’s approach to the policy has been exceedingly expansionist; where the policy traditionally only applied to aid tied to family planning projects, the policy now extends to all international health care aid provided by the US government, amounting to almost $9 billion every year, and covering US aid policies in the areas of family planning and reproductive health, infectious diseases, TB treatment, children’s health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention, water and sanitation programs, and tropical diseases.

The effect of the policy extends past the years in which it is actively in place. Population Action International reports on a reluctance on the part of US governmental officials and non-governmental partners to enter into agreements with organizations that may be ineligible for funding in the future based on the putative reinstatement of the policy, in effect operationalizing the policy beyond the times in which it is in active effect. Beyond the expanded remit given to the policy by the Trump administration, and the temporal expansion based on likely reinstatement, the wording of the policy itself goes some way to expanding the scope of the policy beyond what might be necessary in a vacuum. The structural effect of the policy is to prevent the funding of abortion access with US aid money (an outcome which is illegal regardless through the Helms Amendment) and abortion advocacy. The policy contemplates a neat categorization of organizations such that it is possible to carve out the aspects of a healthcare organization that deal with abortion care as an aspect of reproductive health and justice. Continue reading

Patient Safety at the Crossroads

By John Tingle

The NHS (National Health Service) in the UK is 70 next year: it was founded on 5th July 1948 and celebrations are being planned. Clearly a lot has changed since it was founded. Our concept of wellness has changed, we go to the doctor for reasons that would never have been considered appropriate in 1948. Health today is not just about the absence of physical diseases.

What is clear is that ever since 1948 the NHS has been shortage of resources in the face of a seemingly insatiable demand for its services. Balancing finite resources against near infinite demands is no easy task. Seventy years on, it is most concerning that a vast amount of money in the NHS is now being spent on clinical negligence claims. In their latest annual report and accounts, NHS Resolution estimates the total amount for clinical negligence claims it owes is £65 Billion. Damages paid to patients rose significantly from £950.4 million to £1,083.0 million, an increase of 14%. The high cost of clinical negligence is not sustainable and something must be urgently done to reduce the number of claims against the NHS. The issues were recently considered by the National Audit Office (NAO), which found:

  • The cost of clinical negligence claims is rising at a faster rate year-on-year, than NHS funding.
  • Even if successful, NHS Resolution and the Department’s current actions are unlikely to stop the growth in the cost of clinical negligence claims.
  • The government lacks a coherent cross-government strategy, underpinned by policy, to support measures to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence.

Continue reading

Religion, Health, and Medicine: the Dialectic of Embedded Social Systems

The philosopher in me understands that there are universal principles in logic, mathematics, and in basic scientific tenets such as the law of gravity. Be that as it may, the historian in me recognizes that we inherit epistemologies and ways of thinking from those before us, and from our own historical and cultural contexts. Certain ideas dominate the world; and, while some are indeed universal, especially those based on science, the fact remains that a number of other concepts are only seemingly universal. The concepts of personhood, divinity, self, and even society as we tend to understand them today are largely inherited from a Western, Christian worldview. As these ideas have wrestled with philosophical inquiry throughout history, they have either been decoupled from their origins in religious thought, or they have been secularized and rationalized a la Kantian categorical imperatives or the like—and then disseminated in universities, institutions, cultures, and literatures.

On one level, to speak of the Western world as “secular” is, as the philosopher Charles Taylor notes, to say that “belief in God, or in the transcendent in any form, is contested; it is an option among many; it is therefore fragile; for some people in some milieus, it is very difficult, even ‘weird’” (Taylor: 2011, 49). But on another and much deeper level, this very possibility was only ever tenable on account of two major factors: “First, there had to develop a culture that marks a clear division between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural,’ and second, it had to come to seem possible to live entirely within the natural” (Taylor, 50). This was only possible because of a unique philosophical climate that actively sought to dislodge the old form of moral order and social “embeddedness” in an attempt to establish a “purely immanent order.” Taylor’s groundbreaking work, A Secular Age argues that secularism is part of a grand narrative in the West and shows that its historical and cultural foundations are in fact thoroughly Christian and European. He pushes back against Max Weber’s secularization thesis that religion diminishes in the modern world and in the wake of increasing developments in science and technology—and instead gives a different account of what secularism might mean: one that has deep implications for morality, politics, and philosophy.

Continue reading

Emergent Medical Data

By Mason Marks

In this brief essay, I describe a new type of medical information that is not protected by existing privacy laws. I call it Emergent Medical Data (EMD) because at first glance, it has no relationship to your health. Companies can derive EMD from your seemingly benign Facebook posts, a list of videos you watched on YouTube, a credit card purchase, or the contents of your e-mail. A person reading the raw data would be unaware that it conveys any health information. Machine learning algorithms must first massage the data before its health-related properties emerge.

Unlike medical information obtained by healthcare providers, which is protected by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), EMD receives little to no legal protection. A common rationale for maintaining health data privacy is that it promotes full transparency between patients and physicians. HIPAA assures patients that the sensitive conversations they have with their doctors will remain confidential. The penalties for breaching confidentiality can be steep. In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services recorded over $20 million in fines resulting from HIPAA violations. When companies mine for EMD, they are not bound by HIPAA or subject to these penalties.

Continue reading

An Analysis of Five Years of Cerebral Palsy Claims in the UK

By John Tingle

NHS Resolution, an arm’s length body of the Department of Health that manages clinical negligence and other claims brought against the NHS in England, have just published a report on cerebral palsy legal claims. These claims are complex and result in large awards of compensation. In 2016-17, whilst the obstetrics specialty accounted for only 10% of the 10,686 claims received, they represented 50% of the £4,370 Million value of claims received.

Once case may cost £20 Million or more for one child. The report shows that the same errors are often being repeated and that key patient safety lessons go unlearned. The report analyses the data held by NHS Resolution on its claims management system on compensation claims for cerebral palsy that occurred between 2012-2016.There were 50 claims between this period that were suitable for review with a potential financial liability greater than £390 Million. This figure excludes the costs of defending the claim and the wider cost impact on the NHS as a whole. The results of the report are split into two parts. Part one looks at the quality of the serious incident (SI) investigation reports and part two looks at arising clinical themes. Continue reading

Ireland’s Abortion Referendum and Medical Care in Pregnancy

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

This week, Ireland made international headlines as the governing political party announced a date-range for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, the provision which recognizes a fetal right to life, and places it on an equal footing to the right to life of the woman carrying the fetus. The move wasn’t a surprise to Irish voters – the referendum had been promised by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar since his election last June, and comes after decades of protest and organization by a multitude of activist groups, protesting what they view as an archaic, unworkable and agency-destroying constitutional provision that has led to the exporting of abortion care for Irish woman to the UK and Netherlands, and the deaths of women in Ireland. The implications of the Eighth Amendment for access to abortion care are obvious enough – it is illegal in almost all cases. Less prominent has been the pronounced effect that this constitutional ban on abortion has had for medical treatment and care in pregnancy, where the doctor involved is, constitutionally speaking, treating two patients with equal rights to life.

The only scenario in which an abortion in Ireland is legally permissible is in cases where the woman’s life is at risk from the continuance of the pregnancy. In all other cases, including cases where the fetus is non-viable, where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or where the fetus will risk the health of the woman, but not her life, abortion is illegal. Criminal punishment for illegally procuring an abortion runs to a prison term of 14 years, which includes doctors who provide illegal treatment. Women who can afford it travel to the United Kingdom to avail of abortion services there, but doctors in Ireland cannot legally refer their patients to clinics in the UK, even in cases where continuing the pregnancy risks the health of the woman. It is unknown how many women have ended a pregnancy with illegal, imported abortion pills.

Continue reading

First, Do No Harm: NGOs and Corporate Donations

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

Last year Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) refused free vaccinations for pneumonia from Pfizer, who had offered the medicines as a corporate donation to the humanitarian organisation. The explanation MSF provided (available here) makes for an interesting, if uncomfortable read. Looming large is the lengthy history of negotiations between MSF with the only manufacturers of the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. MSF claim that the only sustainable solution to a disease that claims the lives of almost a million children each year is an overall reduction in the cost of the vaccine, and not one-off donations that come with restrictions on where MSF may use the medicines, and a constant power disparity between the parties, where Pfizer may release the medication on their own timeline, and revoke access as they see fit.

Continue reading

The State of Care in Mental Health Services in England 2014-2017

By John Tingle

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. They have recently published a report of inspections on specialist mental health services. The  report is very thorough and detailed and reveals both good and bad practices. When reading the report however the poor practices identified eclipse the good ones.

Patient safety concerns

Concerns about patient safety are a constant and overarching theme in the report. The CQC biggest concern in this care area is patient safety:

“For both NHS and independent mental health services overall, and for eight of the 11 core services, safe was the key question that we most often rated as requires improvement or inadequate. At 31 May 2017, 36% of NHS core services and 34% of independent core services were rated as requires improvement for safe; a further 4% of NHS core services and 5% of independent core services were rated as inadequate for safe “(29).

Continue reading

The Rising Cost of Clinical Negligence: Who Pays the Price?

By John Tingle

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) have recently published a report arguing that the rising costs of clinical negligence needs to be urgently controlled. They state that the NHS is struggling under the increasing burden of clinical negligence costs and suggest some reforms.The report is detailed and thorough and raises some good and interesting points but in reading it, it should be remembered that there is also a very good contrary position that can be advanced by those who act for patients in clinical negligence litigation. This report puts the issues to test.

The Report

The report begins by looking at the increasing costs of clinical negligence claims. Costs have increased over the years and the figures are stark. The report quotes figures from NHS Resolution, the new name for the NHS LA (National Health Service Litigation Authority) who estimates that the provision for future clinical negligence costs, relating to claims arising from incidents that have already occurred, stands at £56.1 billion:

“Expenditure on clinical claims by NHS Resolution increased by 72% (11.5% a year on average) over the five years to 2015/16. Should this trend continue it risks becoming wholly unsustainable for the NHS and wider society, which ultimately pays for these cost. Last year alone, nearly £1.5billion was spent and, put into context, this equates to the cost of training over 6,500 new doctors.(p4).” 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

Making Health Care Safer: What Good Looks Like

It’s fair to say that patient safety and health quality reports in recent years have tended to focus on what is going wrong in the NHS and what needs to be done to put things right.We have had some dramatic health care systems failures which have resulted in unnecessary deaths of patients.The naming and shaming of errant health care providers has taken place and we have now through the CQC (Care Quality Commission), a much more open, stronger, intelligent and transparent way of regulating health care quality than we have ever had before.

The health care regulatory system does seem to be making a positive difference to NHS care judging from recent CQC reports with some good examples of health quality and safe care practices taking place. Other trusts can learn from these practices.

The CQC have just published a report which includes several case studies illustrating some of the qualities shown by care providers that are rated good or outstanding overall. These hospitals known as hospital trusts in the NHS have been on a journey of improvement some going from special measures to good (CQC inspection ratings). The views of some of the people involved in the care improvement initiatives are stated in the case studies revealing important insights on improvement strategies and the nature of the problems overcome. 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

Emergency Preparedness: Is Quarantine All We Have to Offer?

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. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Wendy K. Mariner

On August 1, 2014, while Ebola raged in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, Donald Trump tweeted: “The U.S. cannot allow Ebola infected people back! People that go to faraway places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”  Most experts agree that epidemics are best avoided where the population is educated, well-nourished, and resilient, with access to effective medical and public health resources. Yet, too often, the first response to the threat of an epidemic is to keep people out of the country or quarantine them. It is worth considering why this is so, and how we can do better.

A New Foreign and Interstate Quarantine Rule

On January 19, 2017, the day before Trump’s inauguration as President, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued final regulations for detaining individuals suspected of harboring a “quarantinable” communicable disease (QCD). Why would the Obama Administration issue new rules? The explanation in the Federal Register offers 2 reasons: (1) responding to the Ebola epidemic and outbreaks like MERS and measles; and (2) clarifying and codifying “current practice” “to make the public aware of their use.” Continue reading

When a Nurse Needs an Attorney: US Quarantine Policy

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. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Kaci Hickox, MPH, MSN, RN

As new cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are announced, I am reminded of the importance of applying lessons learned from U.S. quarantine policies during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak. I watched the suffering of entire families and communities facing the largest Ebola outbreak in history. During my Ebola training in Brussels, I will never forget hearing an Ebola expert explain, “Remember to have compassion because this disease turns peoples’ loved ones into a biological hazard.” I remember the moment I understood Ebola with my heart, not merely my head, when a young woman admitted to the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Ebola Treatment Unit in Bo, Sierra Leone, explained, “Nineteen of my family members have died of Ebola.”

Yet, in the midst of extreme fear and suffering, I also witnessed the profound courage of the staff responding to stop the outbreak. On my last day in the unit we had celebrated the discharge of 39 Ebola survivors. Offering isolation, testing, and treatment for persons who developed symptoms of Ebola was necessary to stop disease transmission and finally, after two years of response, the outbreak was declared over in December 2015! In this globalized world, we must be prepared to react not only to Ebola, but to any infectious disease threat with courage instead of fear, science instead of politics.

How do we ensure courageous responses to infectious disease threats? Continue reading

New Blog Symposium: Between Complacency and Panic – Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases

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. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Wendy E. Parmet and Jennifer L. Huer

Public health is often invisible. In contrast to health services, public health interventions usually operate behind the scenes, reducing risks to broad populations. No one can say who was saved, what deaths were prevented.

For public health, this invisibility presents political and budgetary challenges. Without clear beneficiaries, public health has lacked the political support and dollars allocated to health services. This challenge may be even more formidable today as the Trump Administration seeks enormous cuts to public health programs, while questioning settled public health science.

In the face of such challenges, it may be tempting for public health advocates to emphasize the dangers of emerging infectious diseases. Over the last forty years, a multitude of new or previously tamed infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika have emerged, wrecking morbidity and mortality, and causing panic around the globe. During these outbreaks, public health’s importance becomes, at least briefly, all-too-apparent. Continue reading

The First Human Body Transplant – Ethical and Legal Considerations

By Ana S. Iltis, PhD

brain_glowingprofileTo what lengths should we go to preserve human life? This is a question many are asking after hearing that three men plan to make medical history by conducting the first human head transplant. Or, rather, whole body transplant. Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren plan to provide a Russian volunteer, Valery Spiridonov, a new body. During the procedure, Spiridonov’s body and head would be detached and, with the help of a crane, surgeons would move the head and attach it to the donor body.  But is this ethical? What role might law and regulation play in monitoring them or in assessing their conduct after the fact?

Critics call the plan crazy, unethical, and sure to fail. The likelihood of success is very low and the risk of Spiridinov dying is high. Spiridonov says that as soon as animal studies confirm the possibility of survival, the risks will be worth taking. He has Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a genetic disorder that destroys muscle and nerve cells. He is confined to a wheelchair and has lived longer than expected. Body transplantation offers him the best chance at a life worth living. Continue reading

Patient Safety in the NHS: The Culture Change Agents

By John Tingle and Jen Minford 

It is important to take a broad holistic approach when looking at patient safety policy development and practice in the NHS. There cannot be a one size fits all approach and a number of possibly quite disparate organisations and stakeholders in the NHS and beyond must be consulted and involved so that effective and positive culture change takes place.

The  CQC (Care Quality Commission) is a major patient safety culture change agent whose job is to ensure that health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care. The CQC encourages care service providers to be on an upward trajectory of improvement. They have recently produced a report to analyse what impact they have on quality and improvement in health and social care. The report provides evidence that the CQC is having a significantly positive impact  on regulating care and ensuring good standards.

A majority of new providers and registered managers responding to a CQC survey said that their guidance and standards are clear. The CQC approach to regulation and their standards have an influence on how some providers measure their own quality. CQC inspection reports were also said to be useful. Continue reading

Factory farming, human health, and the new WHO Director General

By Nir Eyal

Last week, over 200 experts called on the next Director General of the World Health Organization to prioritize factory farming in an open letter. Announced in articles in the New York Times and The Lancet, the letter argues that factory farming is a major barrier to better global health. The letter does not make this argument on animal rights grounds – although this argument is certainly strong – but instead focuses on factory farming’s contribution to antibiotic resistance, climate change, and the rise of chronic diseases. These three issues formed the core of the last Director General’s agenda, although limited attention was paid to factory farming, which the authors argue, “connects the dots among them.”

One of the authors is Scott Weathers, a Global Health and Population MSc student at the Harvard T.H. Chan SPH. The other is Sophie Hermans, a doctoral student from Cambridge U. Their letter received overwhelming response. On twitter, their announcement of the letter was the #1 trending tweet on all relevant hashtags for the recent World Health Assembly.

Congratulations, Scott and Sophie!

(I am among the letter signatories.)