‘Concussion’ distorts the scope of traumatic brain injury

By Brad Segal 

I just watched the movie Concussion (2015) as an assignment for one of my bioethics courses. The movie is about a physician, Dr. Bennet Omalu, as he unravels the association between playing in NFL and an acquired neurodegenerative disease, a condition he calls, “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE). At one point Dr. Omalu tries to convince a prominent researcher that, despite suffering head traumas similar to those of football players, animals like the woodpecker have the means of avoiding CTE;

“The woodpecker’s tongue comes out the back of the mouth through the nostril and goes around the top of its head. Basically, it’s one big safety belt for the brain.” (source)

The tongue shoots out through the nostril? As a medical student, I found this trivial aside absolutely fascinating. But when I tried to learn more I quickly realized–to my dismay–that most experts would balk at this characterization. Woodpeckers don’t develop CTE for a variety of reasons, including; (1) smaller mass means less force from deceleration; (2) no head rotation during each peck as to decrease angular forces, and; (3) their skulls have a physiologic protective cushion. I won’t delve further into the weeds about where exactly the movie’s assertions depart from reality, but to put it generously, this crucial argument totally misrepresents the science.

The problem with all of this is that it’s tempting to watch Concussion and feel better informed about the controversies surrounding professional football and CTE. To be honest, I was mesmerized watching familiar events brought to life on screen, and it all seemed credible as it used the actual names of people involved. Movie reviews by Rolling Stone even suggest that it should be mandatory for football fans, and The New York Times remarks on how it, “sells a complex issue.” Sure, everyone knows Concussion is “for entertainment purposes only,” but can’t stories that are true also be entertaining? However, the seemingly-trivial inaccuracy about woodpeckers was a potent reminder that this film is not a documentary. Concussion should be viewed as it is–a major Hollywood blockbuster starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin.

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Patient Safety and Clinical Risk in Neonatal Care

By John Tingle                                     

The CQC (The Care Quality Commission)  is the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. They make sure that health and social care services provided to people are safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and they encourage care services to improve. The  CQC inspects health facilities and they have important statutory regulatory powers and sanctions.They have recently produced a report on neonatal care and  on  providing care for infants in the community who need respiratory support. As well as some positive findings, the report does reveal a number of major patient safety risks and failings.

In England, one in every nine babies is born needing care from neonatal services and  this is on the increase. The care process here can be challenging with sick babies with complex health needs receiving hospital care and then care at home and in the community. The care of the baby traverses’ distinct pathways or care areas and sometimes problems can occur:

A lack of consistency in care and communication across a pathway can result in poor outcomes for both babies and parents.” (p.3)

The report looks at current practice in three different aspects of care: Continue reading

Prior Authorization Policies for Pediatric ADHD Medication Prescriptions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6.4 million US children 4-17 years old have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The percentage of US children diagnosed with ADHD has increased by 3-5 percent per year since the 1990s. Relatedly, the percentage of children in this age group taking ADHD medication also has increased by about 7 percent per year from 2007-2008 to 2011-2012.

In response, some state Medicaid programs have implemented policies to manage the use of ADHD medications and guide physicians toward best practices for ADHD treatment in children. These policies include prescription medication prior authorization requirements that restrict approvals to patients above a certain age, or require additional provider involvement before approval for payment is granted.

In a new article published this afternoon in MMWR, CDC researchers compared Medicaid and employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) claims for “psychological services” (the procedure code category that includes behavior therapy) and ADHD medication among children aged 2–5 years receiving clinical care for ADHD.

The article references a newly released LawAtlas map that examines features of state Medicaid prior authorization policies that pertain to pediatric ADHD medication treatment, including applicable ages, medication types, and criteria for approval.

States with Medicaid programs that have a policy that requires prior authorization for ADHD medications prescribed to children younger than 28 years old.

States with Medicaid programs that have a policy that requires prior authorization for ADHD medications prescribed to children younger than 28 years old.

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Humanizing Pain: Advocacy, Policy and Law on Abortion, Execution and Juvenile Life Without Parole

By Robert Kinscherff

I recently attended a presentation on Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications, jointly sponsored by the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital) and the Petrie-Flom Center (Harvard Law School).  Presenters were Amanda Pustilnik, JD (University of Maryland School of Law) and Maureen Strafford, MD (Tufts University School of Medicine). Video of the event is available on the website, and I encourage everyone to watch the full discussion for themselves.

Doctor Strafford delivered a masterful overview of the trajectory of scientific perspective and research about children and pain.  Over the course of her career, the medical perspective has transformed from “children do not feel pain” to “children do not remember pain” to inquiry into “when and how children feel pain.” Strafford described the medical complexities of understanding the physical and subjective aspects of pain as well as the impossibility of confidently “pinpointing” the exact point in fetal development when a neonate experiences pain.

Professor Pustilnik gave an equally compelling review of law and legal language regarding abortion, particularly law that specifically references fetal pain as a reason for limiting abortion.   This served to frame a conversation about pain and suffering in the law and the ways in which law reflects normative considerations and provides rhetoric (viewed respectively by partisans as “compelling” or “inflammatory”) to political discourse. In this case, discourse about fetal pain both attracts attention and is intended to facilitate empathy for the neonate. Continue reading

Why Senator Markey’s Message Hurts Children

Last week, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) placed a hold on the Senate’s nomination of Robert Califf’s as head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The move was less against Califf and more as political leverage against FDA’s approval of OxyContin. In August 2015, FDA approved OxyContin, a prescription painkiller, for pediatric patients ages 11 to 17. OxyContin is the painkiller most associated with United State’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, accounting for an increase in drug overdose and death over the last decade. FDA’s approval of OxyContin for children drew concern from Markey and others that the approval would lead to an increase in drug misuse for children and their family members. Markey, who has prioritized the fight against opioid addiction in his legislative agenda, hopes he can use the hold to convince FDA to reverse its August decision.

Senator Markey’s message is well intentioned, but may ultimately do more harm than good for children.

Before FDA approved OxyContin in August, children who suffered from severe, chronic pain due to cancer, extensive trauma, or serious surgeries had few drugs approved to treat their pain. Many physicians treating severe pain in children prescribed OxyContin off-label, without proof that OxyContin could safely and effectively treat children. These physicians often relied on their experience or intuition to not under or overprescribe the drug. FDA’s approval in August meant the pharmaceutical manufacturer finally provided physicians with instructions, backed by controlled studies, explaining how physicians could safely use OxyContin to treat children with severe pain. Continue reading

The Impact of Genetic Testing on Children: What do we know, what’s missing?

Wakefield_Pic
By: Claire E. Wakefield, Lucy V. Hanlon, Katherine M. Tucker, Andrea F. Patenaude, Christina Signorelli, Jordana K. McLoone and Richard J. Cohn

Genetics research often pushes the boundaries of science, and by the far-reaching nature of genetic information, pushes us out of our comfort zones to consider new psychosocial, ethical, and legal scenarios. Conducting genetic testing on children arguably pushes our boundaries most. Yet, there can be medical benefits for some children, who may then be offered tailored medical care to match their risks. Children can also be indirectly affected by genetic testing, when they learn genetic information about themselves because a family member has had a genetic test. Continue reading

The “Ashley Treatment” – Thoughts about Avoiding Sexualization

Ashley is young woman who was born in 1997 with a severe mental and physical disability that prevented her from ever eating, walking or talking by herself. Her mental capacity was also not expected to develop further than that of an infant. In 2004, When she was six and a half years old, Ashley‘s parents and the Seattle Children’s hospital physicians who had been treating her sought to perform on Ashley a novel medical intervention that would include hormonal treatment for growth attenuation, surgical removal of her breast buds, and a hysterectomy. This surgical intervention was presented as beneficial to Ashley by allowing her parents to take care of her longer and postpone institutionalization. The removal of breast buds and hysterectomy were meant to spare Ashley the pain and discomfort of menstruation and the development of fully-developed breasts, and also to “avoid sexualization” in order to make her less vulnerable to sexual abuse when she was ultimately institutionalized. Continue reading

Hormonal Treatment to Trans Children – But what if?

A few weeks ago I ran across this BuzzFeed post, telling the story of Corey Mason, a 14 year old male to female Trans teenager who was filmed getting her first pack of estrogen hormones. Her mom Erica, who uploaded the video to Facebook and YouTube, spurred a social-media discussion on the topic of hormonal treatment for Trans children and youth.

Erica said the vast majority of reactions were very supportive. On the other hand, different views and opinions were put on the table as well, even from people who ally completely with Trans identity politics.  One of them, a Trans woman, said she fears from rushing (perhaps gay) teenagers into irreversible treatments, as most Trans kids “GROW OUT OF IT”. Aoife commentThis position was also taken by Alice Dreger, a Bioethicist and a historian writing on Intersex issues, in describing the uneasy choice between the two models available at the moment: On the one hand you have the ‘therapeutic model’ offering mental health support to the Trans person and/or family, to help ease up the tensions caused by gender identity dysphoria (GID). This model aims to relax the dysphoria and so avoids any medical irreversible interventions. On the other hand, you have the ‘accommodation model’ asserting there’s nothing wrong with the trans person and/or his/her family, and so offers medical interventions to accommodate it.[1]

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(UPDATED) Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Looney v. Moore (SUPPORT trial lawsuit)

UPDATE: Plaintiffs have filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Their brief is due on October 19.

The district court has granted summary judgment (opinion pdf) for all remaining defendants as to all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims in Looney v. Moore, the lawsuit arising out of the controversial SUPPORT trial, which I last discussed here. This therefore ends the lawsuit, pending possible appeal by the plaintiffs.

Plaintiff infants include two who were randomized to the low oxygen group and survived, but suffer from “neurological issues,” and one who was randomized to the high oxygen group who developed ROP, but not permanent vision loss. In their Fifth Amended Complaint (pdf), plaintiffs alleged negligence, lack of informed consent, breach of fiduciary duty, and product liability claims against, variously, individual IRB members, the P.I., and the pulse oximeter manufacturer. What unites all of these claims is the burden on plaintiffs to show (among other things) that their injuries were caused by their participation in the trial. Continue reading

M.C. v. Aaronson – Update

By Emily Largent

In 2013, M.C. (a minor child), by and through his adoptive parents, filed a complaint in federal district court against the physicians who recommended and performed M.C.’s sex assignment surgery and the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) officials who authorized it.  This was the first lawsuit of its kind filed on behalf an intersex child who was given sex assignment surgery while too young to give informed consent.

By way of background, M.C. was born with ovotesticular difference/disorder of sexual development (DSD).  Ovotesticular DSD is a condition in which an infant is born with the internal reproductive organs of both sexes; the external genitalia are usually ambiguous but can range from normal female to normal male.  Shortly after birth, M.C.’s biological parents expressed their desire to relinquish their parental rights, and M.C. was placed in the custody of SCDSS.  A team of physicians subsequently evaluated M.C’s condition and recommended to SCDSS officials that M.C. undergo sex assignment surgery in order to make his body appear female.  SCDSS consented to the surgery, which was performed in April 2006.

M.C. was adopted in December 2006.  Initially, his adoptive parents raised M.C. as a female in accordance with his assigned gender.  M.C., however, refused to be identified as a girl.  His adoptive mother has described being “really sad that that decision [regarding surgery] had been made for him. . . . And it’s becoming more and more difficult just as his identity has become more clearly male.”  M.C. is now living as a boy with the support of his family, friends, school, and others.

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Youth Sports at a Crossroads (and Project Play Summit streaming today 2/25)

By: Christine Baugh

Youth sports participation comes with a variety of health and social benefits. The position statement put out by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) indicates that over 27 million individuals age 8-17 participate in team sports in the United States, and over 60 million participate in some form of organized athletic activity. These youth and adolescent athletes benefit from  better overall health as well as increased socialization and self-esteem. However, a recent report by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Initiative indicates that there has been a significant decline in sports participation in recent years.

One factor influencing the decrease in participation may be parental concerns. A recent survey of parents conducted jointly by ESPNw and the Aspen Institute characterized these concerns finding a large percentage of parents were worried about the risk of injury, behavior of coaches, cost, time commitment, and the emphasis on winning over having fun. Concussions and head injuries were the most worrisome injury for parents in this study. Despite this concern, very few parents reported keeping their child from participating in sports due to this risk. The AMSSM position statement characterizes the preoccupation with specialization and competition within sports at such a young age as a risk factor for injury and burnout. Continue reading

Studies provide new insights into youth and adolescent concussion

By: Christine Baugh

In the past several weeks there have been two studies with important implications for youth and adolescent concussions. They are summarized briefly in this post.

Post-Concussion Rest. Thomas and colleagues recently published a study in the journal Pediatrics examining whether standard of care (1-2 days rest) or 5 days of strict rest (both physical and cognitive) following concussion led to better short-term health outcomes in a population of 11-22 year old patients. The full text of this manuscript is available here. Expert consensus recommends strict rest –of relatively undefined duration — followed by a gradual return to cognitive and then physical activity. The study’s authors hypothesized that increased rest would improve outcomes, but found that the strict rest group did not have measurable health improvements compared to standard of care. In fact, symptom reporting was modestly higher in the strict rest group. Main study limitations include: small sample size and short follow-up period (which does not allow for insight as to longer term implications). This was the first randomized control trial of rest duration following concussion diagnosis in a youth and adolescent cohort, and the study added critical information to an important area of inquiry. Continue reading

The Great Vaccination Debate Rages On: Is There Any Solution?

By: Allison M. Whelan, Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology & Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Guest Blogger

For many years now, there has been ongoing debate about childhood vaccinations and the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland and its subsequent spread to other states has brought vaccinations and questions about communicable diseases back to the headlines.  Politicians, including potential presidential candidates such as Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie, are also wading back into the debate.

Most recently, five babies who attend a suburban Chicago daycare center were diagnosed with the measles. As a result, anyone in contact with these infants who has not received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine must remain home, essentially quarantined, for the next twenty-one days—the incubation period for measles. All five of these infants were under the age of one and therefore did not yet have the chance to receive the vaccination, which is not administered until one year of age.

The Chicago outbreak is a prime example of why public health officials emphasize the reliance on herd immunity to protect those who are not yet, or cannot be, vaccinated for legitimate reasons. Unfortunately, the United States has reached a period where it can no longer place much reliance on herd immunity, particularly as more parents decide not to vaccinate their children against very contagious, yet highly preventable diseases. Illness and death are two of life’s certainties, but why should they be given that they are preventable in this situation?  What are the strongest, most rational arguments in this debate? What policy solutions should states consider?  Several options have been proposed over the years, some more feasible and likely than others. Continue reading

Pediatricians: Refusing to treat Patients who are Not MMR Vaccinated

(co-written by Susannah Rose and Jalayne Arias)

Should pediatricians be able to refuse to treat children who are not vaccinated for measles? This issue was raised by Carey Goldberg [here], in which she describes the basic considerations needed to answer this question. Briefly, she reports that several national studies indicate that some pediatricians do discontinue caring for non-vaccinated children, but there is wide variation in this practice. Considering whether pediatricians should be permitted to refuse patients based on vaccination decisions raises a host of questions: Would refusal constitute patient abandonment? Do a clinician’s obligations to this patient outweigh his or her obligations to protect other patients? Does refusing to treat a patient constitute discrimination? Does the refusal infringe on parental authority?

A physician’s decision to refuse patients based on vaccination decisions depends largely on the vaccination under consideration. For example, the MMR carries different risks and benefits (including public health benefits) than the HPV vaccine. The MMR vaccine raises unique public health and individual health concerns, given that measles is highly infectious, the low risk and high efficacy of the vaccine, and the potentially tragic outcomes of the disease (which are wide-ranging, and include pneumonia, encephalitis, death and others complications [here]). Continue reading

Why does Mississippi lead the nation in child immunization?

By Ross D. Silverman

In the midst of the national discussion of measles and the state laws that foster or inhibit its spread, a curious fact has emerged, as noted recently by my JAMA co-author Tony Yang:

Mississippi, dead last in the nation’s overall health rankings in 2012, 2013, and 2014, leads the nation in childhood vaccination rates, and hasn’t had a measles outbreak in more than two decades.

How did this happen?

Mississippi’s state childhood immunization law does not offer exemptions for religious or personal beliefs, and its medical exemptions may only be issued by pediatricians, family physicians, or internists.

Why doesn’t Mississippi have a religious or a personal belief exemption?

First, states are not obligated to offer one, Continue reading

Federal Newborn Screening Law Emphasizes Informed Consent

Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Bioethics and Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine
Guest Blogger

On December 18, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act of 2014. The Act includes new timeliness and tracking measures to ensure newborn babies with deadly yet treatable disorders are diagnosed quickly. These changes responded to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation that found thousands of hospitals delayed sending babies’ blood samples to state labs.  A primary purpose of newborn screening is to detect disorders quickly, so any delays increase the risk of illness, disability, and even death.

Although a major reason for the Act’s amendments is to address these problematic delays, another important addition to the Act establishes a parental consent requirement before residual newborn blood spots (NBS) are used in federally-funded research. The Act directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to update the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the “Common Rule”) to recognize federally-funded research on NBS as “human subjects” research. It also eliminates the ability of an institutional review board to waive informed consent requirements for NBS research.

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Concussion laws lead to increase in health care utilization

By Christine Baugh

Between 2009 and 2014 all U.S. States and the District of Columbia implemented concussion legislation. Generally modeled after Washington State’s Zachery Lystedt Law, most of these statutes require that youth and adolescent athletes are provided with information about concussions prior to sports participation, that they are removed from play if they are suspected of having sustained a concussion, and that they receive clearance from a medical professional prior to returning to sports participation. One of the main purposes of the Zachery Lystedt Law, and presumably those laws modeled after it, is to prevent the catastrophic neurological injury that can occur when a youth athlete returns to play too quickly following a concussion.

Gibson and colleagues recently published their study “Analyzing the effect of state legislation on health care utilization for children with concussion,” in JAMA Pediatrics. This study compared concussion care utilization for adolescents age 12 to 18 in states with and without concussion legislation using an insurance claims database. After controlling for potentially confounding factors such as median income and number of insured individuals per state, Gibson et al. found that states that had implemented concussion legislation had increased concussion care utilization (92% increase) compared to those without legislation (75% increase). The increases in care utilization were driven primarily by increases in visits to the doctor’s office and to a neurologist, not through increases in emergency department care, which the authors described as encouraging.

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Savior Siblings in the United States

By Zachary Shapiro

With the emergence of new techniques in the field of reproductive technology, applications arise that seem more the realm of science fiction than reality. While many have considered stem cells to be the next frontier of modern medicine, reproductive technology may offer hope to many individuals suffering with rare and unique genetic diseases.

The term “savior siblings” refers to the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and other forms of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to create a sibling for the purpose of providing biological material (bone marrow, blood, etc.) that can help treat or cure an existing terminally ill child. It is estimated that up to one percent of PGD in the United States is used to create children that are tissue matches for their siblings. See here.

There has been little meaningful discussion about savior siblings in bioethical or legal circles, and there is no formal regulation governing their use or creation in the United States. This stands in stark contrast to other countries, particularly England, France, and Australia, where a regulatory framework for the use of savior siblings has arisen along with debate over their acceptability. These countries are already discussing how to ethically deal with this extremely complicated issue.  Continue reading

Parental Consent for Youth Contact Sports Participation

As we enter into the fall sports season, it’s unlikely that a week will go by where we don’t hear the current buzzword in sports community: concussion. Whether in reference to an acute player injury, an untimely death, new or ongoing litigation, or rule changes in sport, the athletic community and the public are increasingly aware of the impacts of these brain injuries. Although much of the media attention is directed toward college and professional athletes, youth and high school athletes significantly outnumber their older counterparts and it is thought that they take longer to recover from these injuries.

A recent publication by Mannings and colleagues surveyed 369 parents of 5-15 year old full-contact football players in order to assess the parents’ understanding of concussion (1). Although the study does have limitations, its finding could have important implications. The parents surveyed were often missing critical information about concussions. For example, less than half of parents correctly identified that concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Additionally, none of the parents surveyed correctly identified all of the symptoms of concussion queried in the study. Although it is mandated by statute in the majority of states (2) that parents and/or athletes are provided with information about concussions prior to sports participation, the extent to which the information provided (normally in the form of an information sheet) is read, understood, or retained is not well understood.

Sports participation is associated with a myriad of positive physical, psychological, and social outcomes. However, it also comes with the risk of injury, including concussion. For youth and adolescents, parents play a critical role. Most often, children and adolescents rely on parental consent to participate in sports. Given parents’ role as decision-makers, and the finding of Mannings and colleagues, an important ethical issue that needs to be addressed is what level of knowledge should be required for parents to provide informed consent for their child to participate in inherently risky activities such as contact sports?

[This post reflects my own views only.  It does not necessarily represent the views of the Petrie-Flom Center or the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University.]

Immediate Job Opening: Clinical Ethicist at Boston Children’s Hospital

Clinical Ethicist
Boston Children’s Hospital
Boston, MA

The Office of Ethics at Boston Children’s Hospital has an immediate opening for a clinical ethicist. Applications are being accepted online, at www.childrenshospital.jobs.   To locate the position on the website, enter “32902BR” in the box labeled “AutoReqID.”

Boston Children’s Hospital is a 395-licensed-bed children’s hospital in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area of Boston, Massachusetts. At 300 Longwood Avenue, Children’s is adjacent to its teaching affiliate, Harvard Medical School.

Job description: Clinical Ethicist 32902BR

The Clinical Ethicist provides formal and informal ethics consultations.  Organizes and participates in clinical ethics rounds, and collaborates with clinical teams, patients and families, to address ethical issues in pediatric health care and research. Develops ethics resources and education and serves as a facilitator for change directed toward strengthening the Hospital staff’s sense of moral responsibility and moral community.

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