Elder abuse is not substantiated

Philip C. Marshal is an elder justice advocate and founder of Beyond Brooke. The remarks below were prepared for Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence, part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience at Harvard Law School; April 27, 2018. The complete version of Decision-making, fraud, and undue influence—illustrated through the lens of the Brooke Astor story was published April 28, 2018 in Medium.

The meaning of elder abuse remains misunderstood, even by professionals.

I know—from hard-learned experience—when I, and many others, worked to save my grandmother from abuse by my father.

In a December 2006 court decision, my grandmother’s guardianship judge authorized reimbursement of my legal fees for bringing a guardianship petition for my grandmother, stating, “Although this matter voluntarily settled before the hearing, I find the petitioner Philip Marshall was the prevailing party…”

But the judge also decided to award my father a portion of his legal fees, writing, “I make this ruling based on the conclusion of the court evaluator that the allegations in the petition regarding Mrs. Astor’s medical and dental care, and the other allegations of intentional elder abuse by the Marshalls, were not substantiated.” [italics added]

Decision—In the Matter of the Application of Philip Marshall for the appointment of a Guardian for the Person and Property for Brooke Astor, an Alleged Incapacitated Person. Judge John A. Stackhouse, Supreme Court of the State of New York. December 4, 2006 Continue reading

2018 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference: Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics

2018 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference: Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics
June 1, 2018 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

“Congress acknowledged that society’s accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment.” Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., School Bd. of Nassau, Fl. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987).

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2018 annual conference, entitled: “Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics.” This year’s conference is organized in collaboration with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability.

Conference Description

Historically and across societies people with disabilities have been stigmatized and excluded from social opportunities on a variety of culturally specific grounds. These justifications include assertions that people with disabilities are biologically defective, less than capable, costly, suffering, or fundamentally inappropriate for social inclusion. Rethinking the idea of disability so as to detach being disabled from inescapable disadvantage has been considered a key to twenty-first century reconstruction of how disablement is best understood.

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Tertiary Patents: An Emerging Phenomenon

By Jonathan J. Darrow

Brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers have long been known to try to protect and extend their market exclusivity periods by obtaining patents on a drug’s substance (“primary patents”) and also on its peripheral features, such as formulations or methods of manufacture (“secondary patents”). A new study describes an emerging phenomenon of “tertiary patents,” which have the potential to further delay and discourage market entry in the context of drug-device combination products.

Combination products are defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to include therapeutic products that combine a drug with a device, such as an inhaler or injector pen. These products can sometimes offer life-changing or life-sustaining treatment, as with naloxone (Narcan) for opioid overdose or epinephrine (EpiPen) for severe allergic reactions. In recent years, these and other similar products have been the subject of substantial controversy related to their prices and prolonged lack of generic competition.

To investigate the potential role of patents on the prices and exclusivity periods of drug-device combination products, two researchers at the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School (where I hold a faculty appointment) conducted a comprehensive evaluation of drug-device combination patents registered with the FDA. They found that patents related to drug delivery devices have tripled since the year 2000 and contribute a median of five years of additional market exclusivity to those products (subject, of course, to potential judicial or administrative patent invalidation). Furthermore, the researchers identified a subset of 31 products having only device patents (i.e., having no primary or secondary patents), and found that these patents were scheduled to expire a median of 17 years after FDA approval. Continue reading

It’s Time to Reinvigorate the Constitutional Claim for Physician Assistance in Dying

by  Norman L. Cantor

Since 1997, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected federal constitutional challenges to New York and Washington prohibitions of assistance to suicide, the notion that a dying patient might have a constitutional right to obtain a lethal prescription has gotten short shrift.  Even when the dying patient’s claim for physician assistance in dying (PAD) has relied on state constitutional provisions, no state supreme court has ruled that state liberty or equal protection guarantees so benefit a competent, terminally ill medical patient.  See T.M. Pope, Legal History of Medical Aid in Dying: Physician Assisted Death in U.S. Courts and Legislatures,   N. Mex. L. Rev.  (2018). At least 5 state highest courts have rejected such claims.  Yet developments and insights emerging over the last 21 years in death and dying jurisprudence provide reason to reinvigorate constitutional challenges to state prohibitions on a physician’s providing a lethal substance to a competent, fatally stricken medical patient.

The first Achilles heel in current legal doctrine relates to the “liberty” concept invoked by fatally stricken claimants.   When Chief Justice William Rehnquist rejected the patients’ liberty claim in Washington v. Glucksberg, he labeled it as seeking a “right to suicide.”  That over-simplistic formulation of the constitutional claim presaged its failure.  Of course the guides to fundamental liberty, i.e., the traditions and collective conscience of the people, do not encompass “suicide.”  Suicide, broadly viewed as a choice to “prematurely cut short a viable life, usually for reasons of a transient nature and often involving depression,” has always been disdained and discouraged.  Pope, supra, at 29.  Law has customarily allowed physical intervention to prevent suicide, and has criminally punished assistance to suicide.

Rehnquist, though, was unfairly characterizing the liberty claim of dying patients.  Those dying patients in Glucksberg were not advancing a broad prerogative to terminate a life deemed unbearably unhappy.  Rather, they were asserting a fatally stricken person’s interest in medical management of the dying process and in control of the timing of an unavoidable, lurking death.  Only in the 20th century, with development of modern medical tools, did this issue really emerge.  Only then did a fatally stricken patient incur risk of a protracted dying process with accompanying suffering or degradation.  The 21st century is witnessing an expanded incidence of medically mediated death, a phenomenon warranting renewed focus on end-of-life self-determination.

The 21st century is also witnessing development in another measure of fundamental liberty – the collective conscience of the people.  Polls in 2017 show that 67% of Americans now support the concept of physician-assisted death.  Public sentiment may not be a determinative factor, but it is relevant in shaping the meaning of fundamental liberty.  Also relevant are developments in legalization of PAD as in California, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and the District of Columbia. In short, a basis exists for refining and resubmitting the constitutional claim that self-determination in management of a looming, unavoidable dying process should be deemed a fundamental aspect of liberty.  Continue reading

Diseases of Despair on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast #2

By Nicolas Terry and Leo Beletsky 

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

In April, 2018 the Northeastern University School of Law held a conference titled “Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law.” TWIHL was asked to be the event’s podcast partner and we roped in Leo Beletsky, our friend and one of the conference organizers, to act as co-host for two special TWIHL episodes. Professor Beletsky, holds a joint appointment with the Northeastern University School of Law and Bouvé College of Health Sciences. His research examines the use of law to improve health, with a focus on drug policy, reducing the spread of infectious disease, and the role of the criminal justice system in shaping public health outcomes. Continue reading

Call for Proposals: Symposium – Serving the Needs of Medicaid Populations

The Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Annals of Health Law invite original research paper submissions for presentation at our Twelfth Annual Health Law Symposium: Serving the Needs of Medicaid Populations. The Symposium will take place at Loyola University Chicago School of Law on Friday, November 16, 2018.

The Symposium will explore whether the current Medicaid system is adequately serving the needs of its target population, and how social determinants of health affect access to care in the context of Medicaid. The Symposium is intended to touch upon a wide variety of areas responsive to this overall theme.  Accordingly, we invite submissions addressing any and all aspects of Medicaid and/or its impact upon accessible, quality patient care. Possible approaches to this Call for Proposals include, but are not limited to:

  • Medicaid’s impact on the financial viability of hospital systems and physician practices and the effect this has on access to health care. Topics may explore the financial burdens and/or benefits faced by health systems after Medicaid expansion, economic viability of health systems in states that did not expand Medicaid, and corporate restructuring in the wake of Medicaid reform.
  • The current status of Medicaid in relation to access to health care. Topics may include the health access trends within states that expanded or shrunk Medicaid, state use of Medicaid waivers, Medicaid work requirements, and shifts in DHHS practices and policies.
  • Populations underserved by Medicaid. Topics may explore immigrant access to care in Medicaid, access problems surrounding individuals with medical complexities, and children with disabilities in Medicaid.
  • Proposals to reform Medicaid in order to increase access and reduce social disparities. Topics may include new proposed models that increase access to care, the ACA’s role in expanding access under Medicaid, and bridging the disconnect between health care spending and health outcomes in the United States through Medicaid reform.

Submission Information: Those interested in participating, please send a 1000-word abstract to  health-law at luc.edu by June 16, 2018.  Authors will be notified of decisions no later than July 14, 2018. It is our hope presenters will submit papers for publication in the Annals of Health Law. Papers submitted for publication will be due by January 8, 2019.

NEW REPORT: Ethical Issues Related to the Creation of Synthetic Human Embryos

Report Summary Authored by Robert D. Truog, MD (Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School) and Melissa J. Lopes, JD (Harvard University Office of the Vice Provost for Research)

The Harvard Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight (the “ESCRO”) Committee, an ethics oversight committee charged with reviewing research protocols involving human embryos, human embryonic stem cells, and certain activities with non-embryonic human pluripotent stem cells, recently issued a report exploring the ethical issues related to the creation of synthetic human embryos.

Ethical committees such as the Harvard ESCRO occasionally receive inquiries to deliberate upon the ethical implications of emerging research technologies where there is no existing or established guidance to rely upon. Deliberating in these gray areas is not a simple task, but the Harvard ESCRO has developed a general framework for navigating this ethical terrain in real time. In these instances, the Harvard ESCRO generally consults with its peer oversight bodies, reviews data from the scientific and bioethical literature and from other scientists and ethicists in the field and, from time to time, convenes symposia to broaden the discussion around such emerging technologies.  Continue reading

TOMORROW! Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence

Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence
April 27, 2018 7:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

With over 70 million Baby Boomers retiring, elder financial exploitation has been labeled the “Crime of the 21st Century.” In this half-day event, we will explore the neuroscience, psychology, and legal doctrine of financial decision-making in older adults. How does the aging brain make financial decisions, and when is it uniquely susceptible? How can courts best use science to improve their adjudication of disputes over “competency”, “capacity”, and “undue influence”? Is novel neuroimaging evidence of dementia ready for courtroom use? This conference will bring together experts in medicine, science, and law to explore these important questions and chart a path forward for dementia and the law.

Part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Learn more about the event here!

Insurers are making it harder for me to treat my opioid-addicted patients

By Brian Barnett, via the Washington Post

Brian Barnett is an addiction psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. On February 28, 2018, he was participated in the panel discussion Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred” at Harvard Law School. 

I’m an addiction specialist, and my voice-mail inbox is always nearly full. Some messages are from desperate individuals looking for outpatient treatment or help finding a detoxification program. Others are from patients needing a letter confirming their treatment for a child-custody dispute or care providers informing me that my patients have been hospitalized.

It’s hard to know what to expect, but invariably one type of message awaits: voice mails from pharmacies informing me that a patient’s insurance provider will not approve payment for the medication to treat their opioid addiction unless I obtain prior authorization from the insurer.  Continue reading

A Roadblock in Maryland

By Zack Buck

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Maryland’s pharmaceutical price-gouging law.

The law, which went into effect on October 1 of last year, prohibited drug manufacturers from imposing “unconscionable” price increases, empowering the state attorney general to assess civil penalties against drug manufacturers and to enjoin the sale of such drugs in Maryland.  The law applied only to essential off-patent or generic drugs, and specifically allowed the attorney general “to intervene if a generic or off-patent drug’s price increased by 50 percent or more in a single year,” in addition to acting on other “unjustified” increases.

The court, writing through Judge Stephanie Thacker, found that the law ran afoul of the “dormant” commerce clause, in that it empowered Maryland to regulate transactions that occurred completely outside of the state.

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Patient Safety Failings in Independent Acute Hospitals in England

By John Tingle

One thing that strikes the UK visitor to the USA is the vast array of  large public and private hospitals that exist with many having trauma and emergency rooms. Private hospitals don’t exist on this scale in the UK. Our major hospitals are public, state run NHS (National Health Service) hospitals. Independent, private acute hospitals are generally small in size, have no emergency rooms and maintain a bespoke health care provision. The focus is on patients with a single condition and routine elective surgery. The myriad number of complex multiple conditions, dementia etc that the NHS regularly face as a norm are not covered in the independent sector here with such cases being screened out. This limited focus on the type of care provided does mean that staff within independent acute hospitals have a sheltered and more controlled work remit and environment. This is a significant patient safety issue.

The Independent Health and Social Care Regulator of England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have recently published their findings of independent acute hospital inspections. They inspected and rated 206 independent acute hospitals and the majority were assessed as providing high quality care. At 2nd January 2018, 62% were rated as good,16 (8%) as outstanding. The report contains some very positive findings on health care provision in these hospitals but also some major governance and patient safety failings were found which are very concerning.

The Independent Newspaper reported back in 2015 reported that private hospitals ‘lack facilities to deal with emergencies’, and quoted a study that found that between 2010 and 2014, 800 patients, including those referred by the NHS, died unexpectedly in private hospitals. Continue reading

Diseases of Despair on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Leo Beletsky 

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

In April, 2018 the Northeastern University School of Law held a conference titled “Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law.” TWIHL was asked to be the event’s podcast partner and we roped in Leo Beletsky, our friend and one of the conference organizers, to act as co-host for two special TWIHL episodes. Professor Beletsky, holds a joint appointment with the Northeastern University School of Law and Bouvé College of Health Sciences. His research examines the use of law to improve health, with a focus on drug policy, reducing the spread of infectious disease, and the role of the criminal justice system in shaping public health outcomes. Continue reading

Facebook Should ‘First Do No Harm’ When Collecting Health Data

By Mason Marks

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was reported that Facebook planned to partner with medical organizations to obtain health records on thousands of users. The plans were put on hold when news of the scandal broke. But Facebook doesn’t need medical records to derive health data from its users. It can use artificial intelligence tools, such as machine learning, to infer sensitive medical information from its users’ behavior. I call this process mining for emergent medical data (EMD), and companies use it to sort consumers into health-related categories and serve them targeted advertisements. I will explain how mining for EMD is analogous to the process of medical diagnosis performed by physicians, and companies that engage in this activity may be practicing medicine without a license.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about his company’s data collection practices. Many lawmakers that questioned him understood that Facebook collects consumer data and uses it to drive targeted ads. However, few Members of Congress seemed to understand that the value of data often lies not in the information itself, but in the inferences that can be drawn from it. There are numerous examples that illustrate how health information is inferred from the behavior of social media users: Last year Facebook announced its reliance on artificial intelligence to predict which users are at high risk for suicide; a leaked document revealed that Facebook identified teens feeling “anxious” and “hopeless;” and data scientists used Facebook messages and “likes” to predict whether users had substance use disorders. In 2016, researchers analyzed Instagram posts to predict whether users were depressed. In each of these examples, user data was analyzed to sort people into health-related categories.

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New Article Examines the Possibility of Applying Workplace Safety Rules to the NFL

Part of the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University: Article authored by Adam M. Finkel, Chris Deubert, Orly Lobel, I. Glenn Cohen (Faculty Director), and Holly Fernandez Lynch (Former Executive Director

Could occupational health and safety laws be applied to better protect NFL players? A new analysis, published on April 17 in the Arizona Law Review, explores this very possibility.

The article, written by the Law and Ethics Initiative of the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University, examines whether the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should take an active role in improving health and safety in the NFL workplace.

The article concludes that while OSHA clearly has the authority to regulate the NFL, there is little to no precedent or guidance for OSHA to insert itself into the on-the-field aspects of professional sports. The small body of case law that bears on OSHA’s authority in entertainment and sports opens some doors for OSHA to issue standards for the NFL but also sets some limits on its ability to alter the nature of the game. Adding a public institution like OSHA as a party to existing labor-management discussions concerning health and safety may be the best natural evolution of the issue, the report says, mapping a pathway for OSHA to step up to this challenge. Continue reading

Redefining Death in the Law

By: Gali Katznelson

Jahi McMath was issued a death certificate four years ago in California. Today, at the age of 16, she remains connected to a ventilator in an apartment in New Jersey. Jahi was declared brain dead by her clinicians at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital following a cardiac arrest after a tonsillectomy. A legal battle between Jahi’s mother and the hospital ensued, with the mother requesting that Jahi remain on life support. The hospital refused, and after the hospital released Jahi to a coroner who issued her death certificate, Jahi’s family transported her to a paediatric ICU in a New Jersey hospital. New Jersey is the only state with a law requiring hospitals to accommodate patients whose families do not accept a determination of brain death on religious grounds.

Religious objections to brain death come from some members of the Orthodox Jewish, Japanese Shinto, Native American and Muslim communities. New York, California and Illinois also mandate accommodations for religious objections to brain death but these states leave the nature of the accommodation to the discretion of individual hospitals. This is unlike New Jersey, which allows an exception to brain death criteria and imposes a duty to accommodate patients who reject brain death state-wide. Should all states enact some form of a religious accommodation to brain death? To consider the same person to be alive in one part of the country but dead in another seems illogical. But rather than adapting current laws to accommodate objections based on religion, a more coherent approach might be to redefine the nature of the law itself.

As it stands in the US, the determination of brain death by neurological criteria is equated to a legal definition of death. This history dates back fifty years, to a report by the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee on Brain Death that defined irreversible coma as a new criterion for death. Neurologic criteria for death eventually made its way into law through the 1981 Uniform Declaration of Death Act (UDDA). This model statute states that death could be determined for an individual who has sustained either irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, made in accordance with acceptable medical standards. Every state has adopted some version of this statute.

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Should courts treat destroyed embryos as “lost property” or “wrongful death”?

Bill of Health contributors Glenn Cohen and Dov Fox were featured in this week’s news coverage of novel claims related to recent freezer malfunctions at two major fertility clinics. A class-action suit by one Ohio couple who lost their embryos asks the court to afford embryos standing to use and declare that life begins at conception.Friday’s article asks: “Will Fertility Clinic Disaster Redefine Personhood?” From the piece:

Roe v. Wade made it clear that an embryo or fetus is not a person under the protections of constitutional and federal law. Since then, no [Supreme Court] ju[stices] have suggested otherwise, Dov Fox, a law professor at the University of San Diego, told The Daily Beast. That doesn’t mean that wrongful death claims cannot be filed on behalf of a fetus [or that] the fetus has legal standing as a person overall, but wrongful death can be brought on its behalf—”for lack of a better legal fiction,” Fox said.

Fox added that in similar cases dealing with the loss of embryos due to hospital or clinic in the past, the courts decide that an embryo is not a person for the purposes of wrongful death cases. He pointed to two cases where embryos were damaged—one in Arizona in 2005, and one in Illinois in 2008. Both held that the wrongful death statutes do not apply to the loss of an embryo that hasn’t yet been implanted in a womb. Therefore, it would be surprising if the Ohio court ruled differently. “It would fly in the face of all existing legal precedent,” Fox said. Continue reading

The Health Service Ombudsman: NHS Failing Patients with Mental Health Problems

By John Tingle

Failings in National Health Service (NHS) care for patients with mental health problems is a worryingly persistent story in the English media. Many reports show harrowing and dramatic failings in NHS care provision for the mentally ill some of which result in avoidable deaths.The Health Service Ombudsman  (HSO) represents the final stage in the NHS complaints procedure and is an independent  office reporting  directly  to Parliament.The HSO carry’s out investigations into complaints  and makes the final decisions on those that have not been resolved by the NHS in England.In a recently published report the HSO reveals reveals unjust, shocking and tragic failings  in NHS care provision for patients with mental health problems.Some mental health care complaints figures are given in the report.In 2016-2017 there were 14,106 complaints made to NHS mental health trusts (hospitals) with ,65% being upheld or partly upheld by the local organisation.Case work data between 2014-15 and 2017-18 was analysed and five key themes showing persistent failings that the HSO see in complaints being made emerged from this exercise:

  • Diagnosis and failure to treat.
  • Risk assessment and safety
  • Dignity and human rights.
  • Communication.
  •  Inappropriate discharge and provision of aftercare.

The HSO also points out in the report that the other common factor in the cases examined is too frequent substandard complaint handling by the NHS organisation. This adds insult to injury, compounding the impact of failings. Continue reading

Andrew Torrance on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

This week we welcome Kansas University law professor Andrew W. Torrance, who teaches and conducts research in patent law, intellectual property, innovation, and so much more! Andrew is Earl B. Shurtz Research Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, and a winner of a 2015 University Scholarly Achievement Award at the University of Kansas.

Andrew leads us through a couple of fascinating topics on the bleeding edge of law & technology. First, he discusses the use of a page ranking-like model to value patents. Second, he introduces us to some governance and related models applied in the synthetic biology community to avoid the tragedy of the commons and supplement or replace traditional IP protection. Our conversation covers both how cutting edge technology of network analysis can help us better understand law, and how law can better govern cutting edge technology like synthetic biology.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, listen at Stitcher Radio Tunein, or Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on Twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw.

Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence

Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence
April 27, 2018 7:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

With over 70 million Baby Boomers retiring, elder financial exploitation has been labeled the “Crime of the 21st Century.” In this half-day event, we will explore the neuroscience, psychology, and legal doctrine of financial decision-making in older adults. How does the aging brain make financial decisions, and when is it uniquely susceptible? How can courts best use science to improve their adjudication of disputes over “competency”, “capacity”, and “undue influence”? Is novel neuroimaging evidence of dementia ready for courtroom use? This conference will bring together experts in medicine, science, and law to explore these important questions and chart a path forward for dementia and the law.

Part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Learn more about the event here!

The Danger of Speaking for the Dying Patient with “Intellectual Disabilities”

After suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for more than two decades, my grandma quietly passed away at a nursing home in California several years ago. This may sound like a story too common to tell in the United States. However, my grandma never wanted to go to a nursing home in the first place. As someone who spent the majority of her life in China, she only immigrated to the United States to reunite with her family after my grandpa passed. When her conditions first developed, her own children (my extended family who lived with her) considered her a burden and liability, and sent her away against her will – a stark violation of Confucian filial piety cherished in my culture. After being admitted to a public nursing home with very few Mandarin speaking staff and patients, her condition deteriorated rapidly, partly as a result of language barriers and general isolation from family and friends. She soon lost most of her basic functioning and remained in a borderline vegetative state for the last few years of her life.

I could not help but think about my grandma when I read a recently published piece in New York Times. In “A Harder Death for People with Intellectual Disabilities,” Tim Lahey, M.D., argues that current laws make it too difficult for the “loved ones” and legal guardians of patients with “intellectual disabilities” to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of patients who cannot speak for themselves. Based on his own experience with patients in intensive care units, he criticizes the burdensome legal procedures required in some states to allow legal guardians to “decline life-sustaining therapies” and medical providers to “avoid giving unwanted care that isn’t likely to heal” these patients. From his point of view, questions a judge may ask such as “how sure is the guardian or family member of the patient’s wishes?” and “what’s the doctors’ best estimate at a prognosis?” are slowing down the “prompt, patient-centered, bedside care that all of us deserve.” Continue reading