Can a national conscience be gene edited?

By Paul C. McLean

Gene editing is at once promising and perilous. Or, as John Oliver said in a recent episode of his news show, it is ”either going to kill all disease or kill every last one of us.”

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is not as amusing as John Oliver, and unlike the summer film “Rampage,” its new gene editing report features neither The Rock nor a genetically modified, 30-foot wolf.

But if you want to understand what we may actually be getting ourselves into, England’s de facto national bioethics commission has produced a useful roadmap for educating the public and addressing concerns. It may the summer read you’ve been looking for.

And if there’s a gene splicer for envy, I’m ready to be CRISPR’d.

Continue reading

Recreational Genetics or Research Enterprise? Cloudy Consent Issues Arising from Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

23andme genetic testing kit

23andMe has partnered with GlaxoSmithKline, creating a flurry of questions around customer consent to how their data is used in research. (Phobo via imran/Flickr)

By Valerie Gutmann Koch

23andMe announced its $300 million partnership with GlaxoSmithKline late last month, a move that will allow the drug behemoth to develop drugs based on “deidentified” DNA and other information collected from the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing company’s five million customers.

Over the last decade, 23andMe has confrontedand survived – various challenges and existential threats to its existence. However, this announcement, while representing an incredible success for 23andMe’s business, presents potential obstacles for informed consent and the research enterprise.

It may also undermine public trust in the company.

Continue reading

US Legislators Take a Scattered Approach to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

 woman holding newborn

By J. Alexander Short

Pennsylvania is the latest state to enact legislation in reaction to the growing impact the opioid epidemic has on infants. Governor Tom Wolf signed H.B. 1232 in June, effectively requiring hospital officials to notify child protective services when children are born affected by the mother’s substance abuse or affected by withdrawal symptoms as a result of prenatal drug exposure.

Such outcomes generally fall within the parameters of neonatal abstinence syndrome (“NAS”), a group of health problems that occur in newborns who were exposed to drugs while in the mother’s womb.  This legislation brings Pennsylvania into full compliance with the 2003 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

This legislative response makes sense.

Continue reading

California Court of Appeal Rejects Challenge to Vaccine Law

Vaccines are now mandatory for school age children in California.

By Dorit Reiss

The Second Appellate District’s Court of Appeal upheld the California law that removed California’s Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) from school immunization requirements earlier this month.

The decision is a strong endorsement of immunization mandates and is binding on all state courts until another appellate decision is handed down, or the Supreme Court of California addresses the question.

Continue reading

After Julie Eldred, Considering Addiction as Disease or Choice

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that relapse could be a violation of parole.

By Chris Hutchison-Jones

Is substance addiction a choice or a disease?

In the recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the case of the Commonwealth vs. Julie A Eldred judges had to consider this question.

But they came to the wrong conclusion.

Continue reading

Promoting Health Equity Through Health in all Policies Programs: A Health Law Perspective

Scholars and public health advocates are optimistic about Health in All Policies initiatives.

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Peter D. Jacobson

Scholars and public health advocates have expressed optimism about the potential for Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiatives to improve both health equity and population health. HiAP is a collaborative approach across all sectors, involving both public and private decision-makers, to integrate health and equity during the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and services. Braveman and colleagues define health equity to mean that “that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”

I suspect the vast majority of health law scholars support the concept of health equity. But what does the concept mean in practice and how can it be implemented? From a public health law perspective, does implementation require a legal imprimatur or can it be effectively designed and implemented absent some sort of legal mandate?

Continue reading

The Healing Potential of Medical-Legal Partnerships

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Tamar Ezer

As we grapple with today’s social ills and Diseases of Despair such as the opioid crisis, violence and suicide, medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), can potentially provide a powerful healing combination.

MLPs, which integrate legal services into health care, have several important strengths.

They embrace a holistic approach to health, addressing not just biological factors, but also social determinants, such as access to housing or freedom from violence. They bring access to justice to communities. People need not go out to seek legal support, but can find services at a one-stop shop for multiple, intersecting needs. MLPs help address legal issues early, preventing problems and intervening before there is an eviction or utilities are shut off.

Continue reading

Resiliency as Prevention against Diseases of Despair and Structural Violence

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By JoHanna Flacks

If despair is the disease, what is the remedy? I was privileged to participate in a panel with colleagues from the medical-legal partnership (MLP) movement at a Diseases of Despair conference convened by Northeastern University’s School of Law in April. We were invited to share how MLP approaches can answer this question broadly by helping to identify and implement interventions that show promise as despair antidotes or – better yet – antibodies that can prevent despair’s onset.

While hope is despair’s antonym in common usage, the idea of “resiliency” has taken root among healthcare and human service teams as a key quality to cultivate among, for example, survivors of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) who are at risk of poorer health and well-being in the absence of buffers from the toxic stress of these traumas.

Continue reading

Many State Laws Undermine Harm Reduction Strategies in the Opioid Crisis

A protest sign seen at an ACT UP demonstration. Syringe exchange programs are a harm reduction policy that could have an impact on the opioid crisis. (Photo by riekhavoc/flickr)

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Aila Hoss

Despite the increase in rates of opioid overdose death since 1999, the Opioid Use Disorder crisis shows little signs of abating. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that overdose death rates have continued to climb in recent years. These sobering reports, along with others highlighting the impact of the crisis on children and families, the increase in methamphetamine and cocaine use, and the economic costs to businesses, communities and our healthcare system remind us that “opioid addiction isn’t the disease; it’s the symptom.”

There is “no easy fix” to the social and economic determinants of health, such as poverty and housing insecurity, that are fueling this crisis. However, there are actionable, discrete, evidence-based policy measures that can be taken to reduce the rates of overdose deaths via harm reduction strategies.

Continue reading

Physicians and Firearms: Finding a Duty to Talk to Patients About Guns

Sixty-one percent of gun deaths in 2015 were suicides. Physicians should be empowered to speak to patients about guns.

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

Florida enacted a statute in 2011 entitled the “Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act,” which quickly became known nationwide as simply the “Docs v. Glocks” law.

This law essentially forbade doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership, recording information about guns in the home, and “unnecessarily harassing” patients for being gun owners. The penalty was potential medical license sanctions and a fine up to $10,000.

Continue reading

How the New York Court of Appeals Applied the Soda Cap Criteria to Vaccines

By Dorit Reiss

(Photo by pahowho/Flickr)

New York’s Court of Appeals reversed an Appellate Division decision and reinstated New York City’s influenza mandate for city daycares in Garcia v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in June. Applying the same criteria the court used in 2014 to overturn the city’s controversial Soda Cap, the court found that the rules are well within the Board’s authority.

We can suspect that the recent influenza season influenced the decision, but it was also based on a more explicit delegation of authority, and a history of vaccination programs by the Board.

Also, it’s likely good news for at least some of New York’s youngest, who will be better protected from a dangerous disease, and for the public.

Continue reading

The Need for Institutional, Individual and Community Based Responses to the Opioid Crisis

By John Alexander Short

Panelists discussed responses to the opioid crisis during a recent webinar.

Dr. Monica Bharel, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Health, recently hosted a webinar panel to discuss the many consequences of the modern opioid epidemic on families.

Hosted jointly by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the event also included Dr. Stephen Patrick, Dr. Karen Remley, and Dr. Michael Warren who joined Bharel for a talk titled “State Health Leadership: Understanding & Responding to the Lifelong Effects of Opioid Exposure for Infants, Children & Families.”

The discussion offered insight into the complex nature of addiction and the need to understand the disease to craft effective solutions.

Continue reading

The non-capture capture of “patient voice.” Isn’t it ironic?

doctor and patient talk

One challenge of Patient Centered Outcomes Research is to make sure the patient voice isn’t “captured.”

 

Register here for this weeks’s event, “Putting Patients at the Center of Research: Opportunities and Challenges for Ethical and Regulatory Oversight”

By Paul McLean

In a previous life I was a headline writer, so I have to give props for the title of this Friday’s Petrie-Flom panel: “Patients and Conflict of Interest: How Can We Keep the Patient’s Voice from Being ‘Captured’?

That is, how do you avoid “capturing” the patient voice when “capturing” the patient voice is the whole point of Patient Centered Outcomes Research? And yet this is a central challenge to bringing expertise unique to the receiving end of medicine and research into all levels of the process.

Continue reading

What is Patient-Centered Outcomes Research? What Ethical Issues Arise in its Conduct?

By Joel Weissman

Register here for this weeks’s event, “Putting Patients at the Center of Research: Opportunities and Challenges for Ethical and Regulatory Oversight”

Today it is not unusual for patients to expect to be engaged in making decisions about their own health care, in consultation with their doctors. This is commonly referred to as patient-centered care, and recognizes that patients are the best source of information about their needs and preferences.

A relatively newer concept is patient involvement in research on healthcare.

Traditionally, healthcare research has focused on critical events like death or complications, or physiological data from laboratory tests. But patients may be equally (and sometimes more) concerned about harder-to-measure results like quality of life, time spent at home with their families, or the ability to return to work.

Patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) recognizes that to better understand these kinds of issues, scientists should consult patients about the design and conduct of research. Therefore, PCOR is quickly becoming the standard.

Continue reading

What is the Role of the Judiciary in Tackling the Opioid Epidemic?

By Ryan J. Duplechin

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has centralized suits in the Northern District of Ohio.

As waves of opioid lawsuits have mounted in the federal courts, one district court was chosen to shepherd all the cases, and one judge is motivated to step up to stem the tide of the epidemic.

In the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Dan A. Polster was chosen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which centralized hundreds of suits, and created the Opioid MDL.

“The federal court is probably the least likely branch of government to try and tackle [the opioid epidemic], but candidly, the other branches of government, federal and state, have punted,” said Judge Polster during the first hearing of the MDL in January. “My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.”

Continue reading

Long Overdue: Check Out the Vaccine Resources Library for Expert Witnesses

By Dorit Reiss, Stanley A. Plotkin, Paul A. Offit

A new tactic has emerged in a few recent family law vaccination cases: using arguments created by the anti-vaccine movement.

Lack of familiarity with anti-vaccine claims can trip up even the most qualified expert. But a new resource library at the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia aims to combat anti-vaccine rhetoric and by giving experts the information they need to respond.

Continue reading

Putting Patients at the Center of Research: Opportunities and Challenges for Ethical and Regulatory Oversight

Efforts to place the patient at the center of medical research, spurred by the Affordable Care Act’s founding of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, have begun to change the way clinical research is conceptualized and conducted.

Such efforts hold great promise, but also raise potential challenges for ethical oversight.

How should oversight bodies approach the presence of patients in potentially unfamiliar research roles, such as investigator? What forms of patient involvement in research, if any, warrant increased scrutiny from oversight bodies? How do we keep the patient voice from being ‘captured’ by special interest groups?

This symposium will bring together a diverse group of patients and community members, policymakers, bioethicists, and regulatory officials to address these and other issues.

Continue reading

The German Stem Cell Network Has Compiled a Sample Text for Informed Consent

By Sara Gerke

Sara Gerke speaking

GSCN Conference in Jena in September, 2017

At the General Meeting of the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) in Jena in September 2017, Tobias Cantz and I proposed the establishment of a new GSCN strategic working group.

This new working group, known as ELSA, focuses on the ethical, legal and social aspects of the modern life sciences. ELSA aims to serve as a country-wide interdisciplinary platform for the exchange of information and for the analysis and discussion of challenges facing basic and applied stem cell research in Germany.

Continue reading

State-Level Solutions to Discrimination in Organ Transplants 

By Emily Largent

organ transplant

Doctors in North Dakota perform a kidney transplant. (Photo by ndguard/Flickr)

In recent years, alleged instances of discrimination against people with disabilities in organ transplantation have captured public attention.

In 2012, for example, the parents of Amelia Rivera, a child with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, alleged that they were told their daughter was not a candidate for a kidney transplant because of her “mental retardation.” The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia denied “disqualify[ing] transplant patients on the basis of intellectual ability.” Nevertheless, more than 51,000 individuals signed a change.org petition demanding that the hospital “allow the life saving [sic] transplant four-year-old Amelia Rivera needs to survive.”  Ultimately, Rivera received a living donor kidney transplant from her mother.

Continue reading

Beyond Disadvantage: Photos from the Petrie-Flom Annual Conference

At last week’s Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, “Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics,” discussed a number of topics related to the “mere difference” vs. “bad difference” disability theory debate.

Over the course of the day, six panels of experts shared their research and views on topics ranging from health care as eugenics to epistemic injustice to organ donation.

We will have the videos of the event soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the tweets from #rethinkingdisability and some photos from throughout the day by photographer Martha Stewart.

Continue reading