Why Are So Many American Women Dying in Childbirth?

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

In November Serena Williams, indisputably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – tennis player in history gave birth to her daughter by emergency Caesarean section. After the surgery, Williams reported to an attending nurse that she was experiencing shortness of breath and immediately assumed she was experiencing pulmonary embolism. The star athlete has a history of blood clots and had discontinued blood thinners before the surgical delivery. Contrary to William’s requests for a CT scan and blood thinners, medical staff assumed that pain medication had made her confused. A later CT scan confirmed Williams’ self-diagnosis. Stripping out the fact of Williams’ identity turns this near-miss into a terrifyingly common story in US maternal care, albeit one with a happier ending than many. The global trend in maternal death rates – the rate of women dying in childbirth and post-childbirth – has rapidly decreased over the past 15 years. At the same time, the US, despite recording one of the highest per capita income levels in the world, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

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What The Great Divide Over IVF Coverage Can Tell Us About The Future Of Other High-Tech Interventions

This new post by Eli Adashi appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

One is hard pressed to conjure up a more fundamental right than the right to procreate. It is a right “baked” into human DNA, a right inherent to the very existence of the species, and a right enshrined now 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. In principle then, the precept of procreative liberty is all that is necessary and sufficient to undergird the right to infertility care in general and to in vitro fertilization (IVF) in particular. In support of this premise, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined infertility as a disease. Just as importantly, the WHO included Infertility in its International Classification of Diseases replete with the billing codes thereof.

However, the promise of procreative liberty and all that flows from it has yet to be fully realized. For one, the aforementioned principles have not been uniformly embraced by all member states of the United Nations including the United States. For another, access to IVF remains compromised by high procedural costs, widening income disparities, extensive underwriting gaps in both the public and private sectors, deep-seated sociocultural clefts, and fundamental moral discords. To those seeking to build a family, the confluence of these hindrances is nothing short of prohibitive with the net effect being access all but denied. None of this is surprising of course. Access, after all, equals affordability, which is unlikely to improve anytime soon given growing price pressures and widening income disparities. […]

Read the full article here!

Colorado Supreme Court Hears Important Case Re Constitutional Issues on Dispute About Frozen Preembyros – My Take on Oral Argument

By I. Glenn Cohen

On Tuesday, January 9th, the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral argument in In Re Marriage of Rooks. (Kudos to them for live streaming and archiving!)

This is the latest of a series of cases involving disputes between ex husbands and ex wives (or in some cases unmarried former partners) regarding the disposition of cryopreserved pre-embryos. These cases, that have been percolating in a large number of states for what has now been 25 years (!) and have come out in a myriad of ways on a myriad of theories as Eli Adashi and I recently detailed in the Hastings Center Report.

One thing many of these cases have in common, though, is that the Courts have avoided reaching the fundamental federal Constitutional question I wrote about now 10 years ago in the Stanford Law Review: Does the party opposing the implantation of embryos upon dissolution of the marriage have a right not to procreate recognized by the federal Constitution? I have argued that we need to realize we are talking about possible rights (plural) not to procreate and in particular separate out:

The right to be a gestational parent The right not to be a gestational parent
The right to be a genetic parent The right not to be a genetic parent
The right to be legal parent The right not to be a legal parent.

This case demonstrates well why such a distinction is important.

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Limited Seats Still Available, Register Now! 12/12: Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2017 and what to watch out for in 2018. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

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Soliciting Surrogacy in the Hallowed Halls of Congress

By Judith Daar

Joining the ever growing circle of workplace misconduct targeting women’s bodies is the revelation that Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) will resign his seat amid allegations that he solicited two female staffers to serve as gestational carriers and bear his children. In a characteristically defensive resignation letter, Franks bemoans the difficulties he and his wife experienced in forming their family, detailing their multiple miscarriages, failed attempts at adoption, and ultimately joy at the birth of twins with the help of a “wonderful and loving lady” who carried the couple’s children to birth. Wanting to grow their family when the twins reached three, the congressman admits that he “broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable.” Those individuals were subordinate female employees who have the right to work in an environment where their boss cannot ask without warning, “Will you be my surrogate?”

Aside from the obvious addition to the constellation of misconduct premised on the assumption that the female body is fair game in service of male desires, this latest affront holds an irony that should not be lost on us, as well as lessons for the broader regulation of assisted reproductive technologies. As to irony, Arizona is one of a dozen states that outlaws surrogate parenting arrangements. The state’s family code provides, “No person may enter into, induce, arrange, procure or otherwise assist in the formation of a surrogate parentage contract.” This means that surrogacy agreements are unenforceable at law, but legal experts report that intended parents – like the Franks – are willing to take the risk and hope a court will recognize their legal parentage either before or after the children are born. While Rep. Franks did not reveal if his surrogacy contract was executed under Arizona law, odds are he and his wife sought judicial approval of their parental rights in the state he represents in Congress. Continue reading

Islam and the Beginning of Human Life

When does human life begin?

One of the more contentious bioethical and legal issues is about the beginning of human life. Nor is it difficult grasp why, for beyond political rhetoric it is a subject of considerable philosophical and legal debate and raises a number of questions which are profoundly difficult to answer. Biomedicine can roughly differentiate when life becomes viable, that is, at which point a fetus could survive as an infant if a mother gave birth prematurely; it can likewise recognize potential complications either in the development of the fetus or the health of the pregnant woman. Yet other questions are not as easy to answer, precisely because they tend to fall more in the spectrum of philosophy or personal belief: what constitutes a human being? What is a person? Is a potential life accorded the same rights as an actual life? For that matter, are there rights to begin with automatically, or are there criteria that must be met in order to procure rights? In short, questions that strike at the very core of who we are.

A number of these questions were debated by Muslim theologians and legal scholars in the pre-modern world when considering contexts of abortion or issues surrounding paternity. In the modern world, these questions have grown to include in vitro fertilization and surrogacy amongst others. Muslim scholars continue to grapple with these bioethical questions as the medical sciences grow more advanced and technology allows us to have ever more control over the basic aspects of reproduction, growth, and development. Per the question, When does human life begin? for example, Mohammed Ghaly analyses in an important article, “The Beginnings of Human Life: Islamic Bioethical Perspectives” some of the newer discussions and positions Muslim scholars have taken vis-à-vis contemporary bioethics and independent legal reasoning (ijtihad). Complementing this discussion is also a seminal article by Ayman Shabana, “Paternity Between Law and Biology: The Reconstruction of the Islamic Law of Paternity in the Wake of DNA Testing.” Shabana shows how classical rulings pertaining to paternity issues continue to hold higher authority, even despite the advent and availability of modern technology that would ostensibly challenge that authority. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the possible change in perspective with regard to how religious authority is derived and its relationship to the medical sciences. Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (12/12)! Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2017 and what to watch out for in 2018. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

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TODAY, 11/27 at 5 PM: Health Law Workshop with Vardit Ravitsky

November 27, 2017 5-7 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Presentation: “The Shifting Landscape of Prenatal Testing: Between Reproductive Autonomy and Public Health”

This paper is not available for download. To request a copy in preparation for the workshop, please contact Jennifer Minnich at jminnich@law.harvard.edu.

Vardit Ravitsky is an Associate Professor in Bioethics Programs in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Montreal School of Public Health, where she researches reproductive technologies, genetics, prenatal testing, research ethics, and health policy. She is the lead researcher on the Pegasus project, exploring ethical, legal, and social implications related to the implementation of non-invasive prenatal testing in Canada.

REGISTER NOW (12/12)! Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2017 and what to watch out for in 2018. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

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REGISTER NOW (12/12)! Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2017 and what to watch out for in 2018. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

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Book Launch: Law, Religion, and Health in the United States

Book Launch: Law, Religion, and Health in the United States
September 27, 2017 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein West A (2019)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

In July 2017, Cambridge University Press will publish Law, Religion, and Health in the United States, co-edited by outgoing Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch, Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen, and Elizabeth Sepper, Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This edited volume stems from the Center’s 2015 annual conference, which brought together leading experts to identify the various ways in which law intersects with religion and health care in the United States, examine the role of law in creating or mediating conflict between religion and health care, and explore potential legal solutions to allow religion and health care to simultaneously flourish in a culturally diverse nation.

About the book: While the law can create conflict between religion and health, it can also facilitate religious accommodation and protection of conscience. Finding this balance is critical to addressing the most pressing questions at the intersection of law, religion, and health in the United States: should physicians be required to disclose their religious beliefs to patients? How should we think about institutional conscience in the health care setting? How should health care providers deal with families with religious objections to withdrawing treatment? In this timely book, experts from a variety of perspectives and disciplines offer insight on these and other pressing questions, describing what the public discourse gets right and wrong, how policymakers might respond, and what potential conflicts may arise in the future. It should be read by academics, policymakers, and anyone else – patient or physician, secular or devout – interested in how US law interacts with health care and religion.

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TODAY, 9/18 at 5 PM: Health Law Workshop with Jody Madeira

September 18, 2017, 5-7 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104

Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Download the Presentation: “Terminating the Paper Trail: Evaluating the Efficacy of a Multimedia Informed Consent Application in Reproductive Medicine”

For context, please also read: “Is Informed Consent in Reproductive Medicine in Critical Condition?”

Jody L. Madeira is Professor of Law and Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Her scholarly interests primarily involve the intersection of law and emotion in criminal and family law. Madeira’s new book, Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure, applies collective memory to criminal prosecution and sentencing, exploring the ways in which victims’ families and survivors came to comprehend and cope with the Oklahoma City bombing through membership in community groups as well as through attendance and participation in Timothy McVeigh’s prosecution and execution. She is also actively involved in empirical research projects assessing patient decision making and informed consent in assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Additionally, Madeira investigates the effects of legal proceedings, verdicts, and sentences upon victims’ families; the role of empathy in personal injury litigation; and the impact of recent developments in capital victims’ services upon the relationship between victims’ families and the criminal justice system.

Madeira earned her JD magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, where she was elected to the Order of the Coif and served as Senior Articles Editor for the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. She clerked for the Hon. Richard D. Cudahy at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She then came to Harvard as a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer in Law, where she taught legal research and writing as well as a seminar on the cultural life of capital punishment. Madeira also recently served as a Research Associate at the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York.

Book Launch: Law, Religion, and Health in the United States

Book Launch: Law, Religion, and Health in the United States
September 27, 2017 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein West A (2019)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

In July 2017, Cambridge University Press will publish Law, Religion, and Health in the United States, co-edited by outgoing Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch, Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen, and Elizabeth Sepper, Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. This edited volume stems from the Center’s 2015 annual conference, which brought together leading experts to identify the various ways in which law intersects with religion and health care in the United States, examine the role of law in creating or mediating conflict between religion and health care, and explore potential legal solutions to allow religion and health care to simultaneously flourish in a culturally diverse nation.

About the book: While the law can create conflict between religion and health, it can also facilitate religious accommodation and protection of conscience. Finding this balance is critical to addressing the most pressing questions at the intersection of law, religion, and health in the United States: should physicians be required to disclose their religious beliefs to patients? How should we think about institutional conscience in the health care setting? How should health care providers deal with families with religious objections to withdrawing treatment? In this timely book, experts from a variety of perspectives and disciplines offer insight on these and other pressing questions, describing what the public discourse gets right and wrong, how policymakers might respond, and what potential conflicts may arise in the future. It should be read by academics, policymakers, and anyone else – patient or physician, secular or devout – interested in how US law interacts with health care and religion.

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Two Views About the Gene Editing ‘Breakthrough’ that Are Not Getting Enough Attention (IMHO)

As has now been well-covered in the news, Nature just published a paper from Mitalipov’s lab at the Oregon Health and Science University that used CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing to correct the MYBPC3 mutation associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a heart muscle disease that affects 1 in 500 people. The more impressive element of the story is that by doing the alteration simultaneous with the sperm fertilizing the egg (not after fertilization) they were able to avoid the mosaicism that problematized early attempts in China — in mosaicism not all cells are repaired due to failure in the editing. The media coverage thus far, sadly but predictably, has focused on the soundbite of “designer babies” and “hope and hype” (indeed as my friend Hank Greely has suggested perhaps “overhype”.) These are worthy narratives to tell, to be sure, but here are two other narratives that I think are not getting the air time they deserve:

(1) The Importance of Genetic Ties: This use of CRISPR/Cas 9, as with most reproductive technologies, are attempts to allow those with disease-causing genes or other obstacles to reproduce genetically to do so. Investment and development of these technologies reifies the importance of genetic ties, as opposed to the kinds of ties associated with adoption, step-parenting, etc. It confuses a right to be a genetic parent, with a right to be a parent. We might have one right or both, but we should be clear they are different rights claims. Françoise Baylis has written eloquently about this issue in the context of In Vitro Gemetogenesis, and others (myself included) have mused on what claims the infertile have on society to have the state pay for these kinds of technologies instead of adopting. The National Academies report on gene editing suggested that clinical use of gene editing to eliminate disease be restricted to cases where there is an “absence of reasonable alternatives,” but does not take a position on when adoption is a reasonable alternative. Of course, in the U.S. at least, adoption is not easy and not available for everyone and there are a ton of interesting normative questions I have gestured at (including whether it matters for “reasonability” whether the child is of a certain age, race, or lacks developmental delay).

(2) The Importance of Embryo Sparing: A different alternative to gene editing in some cases is to fertilize large numbers of embryos and engage in preimplantation genetic diagnosis to eliminate those embryos that carry the disease-causing genes. There is a lot of obstacles to doing this: the fact that women may not retrieve enough eggs to do this, the cost (physical and financial) of repeated egg retrievals and PGD, the fact that this may not work for all genetic problems, etc. But one problem that vexes some is that this results in the destruction of large numbers of embryos (“discard” is sometimes used as the euphemism). Gene editing may be a solve for this problem. The Mitalipov group in their Nature paper have a line to this effect, “When only one parent carries a heterozygous mutation, 50% of the embryos should be mutation-free and available for transfer, while the remaining carrier embryos are discarded. Gene correction would rescue mutant embryos, increase the number of embryos available for transfer and ultimately improve pregnancy rate” (emphasis mine). This raises to me a very interesting question: some religious conservatives have tended to oppose both attempts to transform the human genome & embryo destruction (especially in the stem cell debate context). Could gene editing offer an olive branch to them as an alternative to the “greater evil” of routine PGD plus discard? Does it matter that to get to a place where we could achieve this we would have to actually destroy numerous embryos to perfect the research? (The Mitalipov embryos were not implanted, it seems under current U.S.  law that they could not be/) Is the right way to think about this consequentialist — destroy some embryos today to develop embryo sparing technologies to save many more tomorrow — or is this a case of complicity where the wrongfulness of the basic research taints what comes later?

Copenhagen Conference: Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing

Join us at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 20 November, 2017 to discuss Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing.

CALL FOR PAPERS

Emerging technologies in Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing offer incredible opportunities and promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced by humanity, such as climate change, environmental protection, growing population, renewable energy and improved health care. But the emerging applications also raise exceptional ethical, legal and social questions.

This conference marks the final phase of the participation of the Copenhagen Biotech and Pharma Forum (CBPF) Research Group at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) in the cross-faculty research project BioSYNergy. In accordance with the goals of this large cross-faculty project on Synthetic Biology, the event explores legal perspectives on synthetic biology, systems biology and gene editing. Dealing with the legal responses to ethical and scientific challenges raised by emerging life science technology. Continue reading

John A. Robertson (1943 – 2017)

Renowned bioethics scholar, longtime University of Texas Law Professor, and frequent Bill of Health contributor John A. Robertson has recently passed away. We at the Petrie-Flom Center mourn his passing, and our Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen writes a few words:

I saw John roughly a month ago at the Baby Markets Roundtable at UT Austin. He was, as he always was and as he still seems to me in my mind’s eye, full of electric intellectual energy, warmth, and whimsy. Every comment that I heard him make for over a decade at conferences began: “That’s so interesting…” and then he would proceed to subtly add something to whomever he responded to that was at once flattering of the idea and also five times better than what was said by original speaker. Certainly that’s how it felt when I was the person to whom he was responding.

Much will be said in coming weeks about his work—not only the centrality of Children of Choice to almost everything that has been written since on reproductive technology, but also the breadth of his work and the way in which almost every new technology soon had a wonderful take by him in print (IVF and uterus transplants most recently).

I’ll limit myself to two reflections. First, the way in which he put the field I write in (law and bioethics or law and the biosciences, depending on who you ask) on to the law school map, and with a few others (Rebecca Dresser, Alta CharoHank Greely, etc), gave it legitimacy as a real and important area of focus within law schools.

Second, and more personally, John was just about the best mentor to young scholars I have ever encountered. I met him first while I was a fellow at an ASLME event and I was blown away by the warmth and generosity of someone I considered a giant in the field (my idol if I’m honest) to a little pischer like me. Over the years I saw him do the same for countless others and I tried to do my best to palely imitate.

I can’t believe he is gone. The world seems a little darker.

TODAY, 4/17 at 5 PM! Health Law Workshop with Judith Daar

April 17, 2017, 5-7 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 104

Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Download the Presentation: “A Clash at the Petri Dish: Transferring Embryos with Known Genetic Anomalies”

Judith Daar is Professor of Law at Whittier Law School with a joint appointment at the UCI School of Medicine. She focuses her teaching and scholarship at the intersection of law, medicine and ethics. Her interdisciplinary work in law and medicine focuses in the area of reproductive medicine, where she holds leadership positions including Chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Ethics Committee. In 2005, Professor Daar became Chair of the Association of American Law School’s Section on Law, Medicine and Health Care, and in 2006 she was named to the Board of Directors of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics. She was elected President of ASLME in 2009 and re-elected for a second term in 2010. In 2007, she was appointed to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies, Committee on Informed Consent in ART, an interdisciplinary group of physicians and attorneys charged with drafting a model informed consent document for patients undergoing in vitro fertilization. From 2008 to 2012, Professor Daar served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. In 2012, she was elected to the American Law Institute.

Professor Daar is a member of the UCI Medical Center Medical Ethics Committee, where she serves on the Bioethics Consultation Team. She has also served as a member of the Harbor-UCLA Hospital Institutional Review Board, and the ABACoordinating Group on Bioethics. Professor Daar has lectured extensively in the field of reproductive medicine, including giving testimony to the California legislature and the National Academies of Science, Committee on Science, Technology, and Law on the issue of oversight and regulation of reproductive medicine. Her scholarship focuses in the area of assisted reproductive technologies where she has authored over one hundred articles, book chapters, editorials and white papers on topics including stem cell research, human cloning, frozen embryo disputes, the use of genetic technologies and the regulation of reproductive medicine. Her first book, Reproductive Technologies and the Law, was published in January 2006, with a second edition appearing in 2013. Her most recent book, The New Eugenics: Selective Breeding in an Era of Reproductive Technologies, will be published by Yale University Press.

Genetic counselors, genetic interpreters, and conflicting interests

By Katie Stoll, Amanda Mackison, Megan Allyse, and Marsha Michie

The booming genetic testing industry has created many new job opportunities for genetic counselors. Within commercial laboratories, genetic counselors work in sales and marketing, variant interpretation, as “medical science liaisons” to clinicians, and providing direct patient care. Although the communication skills and genetics expertise of the genetic counselor prepare them well for these roles, they also raise concerns about conflicts of interest (COI).

Why are genetic counselors leaving clinics and hospitals for industry jobs? Alongside greater job flexibility and taking on new challenges, a big reason is better pay. Hospitals and clinics have difficulty competing with the higher salaries at commercial labs because of continuing challenges in insurance reimbursement. Apart from limited preventive care covered under the Affordable Care Act, genetic counseling is inconsistently covered by private payers. Medicaid reimbursement for genetic counseling is state-dependent, and Medicare does not recognize genetic counselors as reimbursable health care providers at all.

Genetic counselors’ primary objective has historically been to help patients navigate difficult medical genetic information and decisions, supporting their autonomy.  But as laboratory employees, they must also navigate their employer’s financial interests, including increasing the uptake of genetic testing. In this changing landscape, can the profession of genetic counseling maintain the bioethical principles of beneficence, informed consent, and respect for autonomy that have been its foundation and ethos? Continue reading

Reproductive Health Under Assault

This new post by Aziza Ahmed appears on the Health Affairs Blog in a series stemming from the Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Monday, January 23, 2017.

American political, social, and religious history has made abortion a deeply partisan issue. This despite the reality that many women (as well as trans and gender non-conforming individuals) from diverse racial, cultural, class, and religious backgrounds regularly access abortion-related services. The outcome of the 2016 elections has set into motion an expected but nonetheless deeply damaging anti-abortion agenda that is slowly taking form in the Trump administration’s early days — aided by the Republican majority House and Senate. These early moves signal that the new administration aims to roll back gains made toward reproductive justice in 2016.

The attack on abortion rights and, in turn, reproductive justice, by this administration is no surprise. The GOP Platform released during the elections makes many references to defunding or restricting abortion services. The document specifically attacks key victories for reproductive health including the 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court decision overturning key provisions of the 2013 Texas House Bill 2. The law required that doctors who provide abortion services must obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals no farther than 30 miles away from the clinic, and abortion providers comply with guidelines to become Ambulatory Surgical Centers. The Supreme Court found the regulations to be unconstitutional because they result in substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking pre-viability abortions — contrary to the claim made by the Texas Department of State Health Services that the laws make abortions safer. […]

Read the full post here.

Chimeras with benefits? Transplants from bioengineered human/pig donors

By Brad Segal

In January of this year, Cell published a study modestly titled, Interspecies Chimerism with Mammalian Pluripotent Stem Cells. It reports success bioengineering a mostly-pig partly-human embryo. One day before, Nature published a report that scientists had grown (for lack of a better word) a functioning genetically-mouse pancreas within the body of a genetically-modified rat. The latest study raises the likelihood that before long, it will also be scientifically possible to grow human organs within bioengineered pigs.

The implications for transplantation are tremendous. But hold the applause for now. Imagine a chimera with a brain made up of human neurons which expressed human genes. Would organ procurement without consent be okay? That troubling possibility raises  questions about whether manufacturing chimeras with human-like properties for organs is even appropriate in the first place. Here’s what University of Montreal bioethicist Vardit Ravitsky told the Washington Post:

“I think the point of these papers is sort of a proof of principle, showing that what researchers intend to achieve with human-non-human chimeras might be possible … The more you can show that it stands to produce something that will actually save lives … the more we can demonstrate that the benefit is real, tangible and probable — overall it shifts the scale of risk-benefit assessment, potentially in favor of pursuing research and away from those concerns that are more philosophical and conceptual.”

I respectfully disagree. Saving more lives, of course, is good. Basic science is also valuable – even more so if it might translate to the bedside. This line of research, though, is positioned to upend our entire system of transplantation, and so its implications go beyond organ supply. In this post I will argue that to assess this technology’s implications for organ procurement in particular, there is good reason to focus on harms, not benefits. Continue reading