Introduction to “Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law”

By Wendy E. Parmet and Jennifer Lea Huer

We are pleased to host this symposium featuring commentary 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 will be available here.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Reports on the Opioid Crisis are Full of Misidentified Problems and Poorly Calibrated Solutions

Photo by striatic/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 Nicolas Terry

The epidemic associated with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) has birthed a proliferation of reports, many with notable provenance. They include the Surgeon General’s Report (2016), the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis (2017),  and the National Governors Association Recommendations for Federal Action to End the Nation’s Opioid Crisis (2018). We can add innumerable regional and state reports to that list.

Placed next to each other, their recommendations are broadly similar. While they may differ somewhat to the extent that they emphasize criminalization versus medicalization, overall, they tend to coalesce around harm reduction (such as broad naloxone availability and syringe exchanges), upstream opioid reduction strategies (such as prescription limits and prescription drug monitoring programs), and increased public health surveillance based on improved data collection and analysis.

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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.

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When All You Have is a DALY, Everything Looks Like Disease

Govind persad

Govind Persad discusses priority-setting at the Petrie-Flom Center annual conference

By John Hylton

Recently the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference brought together medical experts, bioethics scholars, and disability advocates to rethink how medical systems and public health policies can engage with disability.

During the many fascinating panels at “Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics” one idea that sparked some debate was whether we should use quality/disability adjusted life years (QALY/DALY) to set priorities for who gets access to healthcare resources. Prof. Govind Persad, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins and blogger for Bill of Health, suggested in his presentation that we should dramatically reduce the role of such utilitarian calculations in priority setting, instead focusing on the genesis of the disadvantage.

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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.

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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.

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Medical Professionals with Disabilities Workforce and their Associated Challenges

By Paulchris Okpala

person wearing medical scrubs

Do the provisions of the 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) address challenges faced by medical professionals with disabilities (MPD)?

A 2012 report on Americans with disabilities from the US Census Bureau suggests that it is highly unlikely. There is every reason to be alarmed by the increasing number of medical professionals with disabilities who leave their jobs, or express the intention to quit employment. There is also a rapidly decreasing number of MPD who express the desire to seek employment. Could this trend be attributed to the challenges faced by the MPD in the workplace?

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Dementia, Disability, and Advance Medical Directives

By Rebecca Dresser

pencil drawing of a brain Anyone fortunate enough to live beyond middle age faces a risk of developing dementia. Dementia is a widely feared disability. People often say they wouldn’t want to live if they developed the condition.  

Experts in law and ethics praise advance directives, or instructions to follow on behalf of patients, as a tool giving people control over the life-sustaining medical care they later receive as mentally impaired dementia patients. Some advance directive supporters also want the law to recognize advance requests to withhold ordinary food and water in the late stages of dementia. And some argue that the U.S. should follow the Netherlands in allowing doctors to give lethal drugs to people who made advance directives asking for assisted death if dementia makes them unable to live at home or to recognize their loved ones.  

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Epistemic Injustice, Disability Stigma and Public Health Law

long staircase

By Daniel Goldberg

Public health law can integrate medical and social understandings of disability in ways that promise to reduce disability stigma and enhance epistemic justice.

However, models of disability currently embedded in public health law do precisely the opposite, at least partly due to the fact that public health laws have historically assimilated medicalized models of disability.

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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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Making “Meaningful Access” Meaningful: Equitable Healthcare for Divisive Times

By Leslie Francis

Another anniversary of President Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is coming up in late July, yet the nation remains far from offering even a semblance of equitable societal opportunity to most individuals with disabilities.

For them, full social participation is dismissed as merely an idealistic dream. With its focus on restoration of full functioning for patients, the health care delivery system might be supposed an exception, but a closer look shows the opposite is true.

Physicians’ offices, clinics, and hospitals too often have not been made accessible. Too frequently, these facilities have diagnostic or treatment equipment that some people, due to disability, cannot use. Health care provider staff are not trained to interact with or assess disabled individuals, and may be swayed by implicit biases that target disability, just as are non-medical personnel or laypersons in the population.

disability rights protest sign

Photo by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights/Flickr

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Bill of Health Blog Symposium: Research Integrity and Trustworthy Science: Challenges & Solutions

We are pleased to host this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the University of Minnesota’s Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences event, “Research Integrity and Trustworthy Science: Challenges and Solutions.”  Below, Susan M. Wolf tees up the issues.  All posts in the series will be available here.

By Susan M. Wolf, JD (Chair, Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences; McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy; Faegre Baker Daniels Professor of Law; Professor of Medicine, University of Minnesota)

Trustworthy science is crucial to progress in scientific understanding, patient care, and product development. Yet threats to the integrity of science and to public confidence loom large. Researcher misconduct, inadequate education of new researchers, concerns over the reproducibility and rigor of scientific research, predatory journals that fail to perform thorough peer review, and oversight lapses all constitute significant threats to sound science and public trust.

A 2017 report from the National Academies on Fostering Integrity in Research carefully analyzed “detrimental research practices.” The report called for significant changes in the policies and practices of journals, research institutions, and researchers. Among the proposals was creation of a Research Integrity Advisory Board (RIAB) as an independent nonprofit. Further recommendations called for changes to allow researchers to reproduce results, including archiving datasets and code.

In March 2018, the University of Minnesota responded to the emerging research challenges and solutions by sponsoring a conference on “Research Integrity and Trustworthy Science: Challenges and Solutions.” We invited leading analysts to address the challenges for researchers, journals, and research institutions. In this blog symposium, plenary speakers from the conference examine three foundational elements of credible research:

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Challenges for Investigators—Generating Reproducible Research Results

This post is part of a series on emerging research challenges and solutions. The introduction to the series is available here, and all posts in the series are available here.

By John P.A. Ioannidis, MD, DSc, C.F. Rehnborg Chair in Disease Prevention, Professor of Medicine, of Health Research and Policy, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics, and Co-Director, Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University

Generating reproducible research results is not an easy task. As discussions about a reproducibility crisis become more common and occasionally heated, investigators may feel intimidated or even threatened, caught in the middle of the reproducibility wars. Some feel that the mounting pressure to deliver (both quantity and quality) may be threatening the joy of doing science and even the momentum to explore bold ideas. However, this is a gross misunderstanding. The effort to understand the shortcomings of reproducibility in our work and to find ways to improve our research standards is not some sort of externally imposed police auditing. It is a grassroots movement that stems from scientists themselves who want to improve their work, including its validity, relevance, and utility.

As it has been clarified before, reproducibility of results is just one of many aspects of reproducibility. It is difficult to deal with it in isolation, without also considering reproducibility of methods and reproducibility of inferences. Reproducibility of methods is usually impossible to assess, because unfortunately the triplet of software, script/code, and complete raw data is hardly ever available in a complete functional form. Lack of reproducibility of inferences leads to debates, even when the evidence seems strong and well-rounded. Reproducibility of results, when considered in the context of these other two reproducibility components, is unevenly pursued across disciplines. Some fields like genetic epidemiology have long understood the importance of routinely incorporating replication as a sine qua non in their efforts. Others still consider replication as second-class, “me too” research. Nevertheless, it can be shown (see Ioannidis, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, in press), that in most circumstances replication has at least the same value—and often more value—than original discovery. However, this leads to the question: how do we reward and incentivize investigators to follow a reproducible research path?

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Challenges for Journals—Encouraging Sound Science

This post is part of a series on emerging research challenges and solutions. The introduction to the series is available here, and all posts in the series are available here.

By Barbara A. Spellman, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia School of Law

Journals and scientists should be BFFs. But currently they are frenemies. Or, in adult-speak:

Journals play an important role in ensuring that the scientific enterprise is sound. Their most obvious function is to publish science—good science, science that has been peer-reviewed by experts and is of interest to a journal’s readership. But in fulfilling that mission, journals may provide incentives to scientists that undermine the quality of published science and distort the scientific record.

Journal policies certainly contributed to the replication crisis. As businesses, publishers (appropriately) want to make money; to do so they need people to buy, read, and cite their journals. To make that happen, editors seek articles that are novel, that confirm some new hypothesis, and that have clear results. Scientists know that editors want articles with these qualities. Accordingly, scientists may (knowingly or not) bias the scientific process to produce that type of result.

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Systems Matter: Research Environments and Institutional Integrity

This post is part of a series on emerging research challenges and solutions. The introduction to the series is available here, and all posts in the series are available here.

By CK Gunsalus, Director, National Center for Professional and Research Ethics (NCPRE), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

We know what it takes for institutions and scholars to produce high-quality, high-integrity research, and yet we do not always act upon that knowledge. As far back as 1988, Paul J. Friedman described both the roots of systemic shortcoming and approaches for conducting trustworthy research. Despite a clear understanding of the issues and steps that would improve our research and educational environments, the academy continues to be dogged by those same systemic issues. A recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine consensus study, Fostering Integrity in Research, in which I participated as a panel member, explores that same disconnect and makes recommendations. The bottom line is this: we must shift our attention and energy away from individual bad actors—though they exist and must be addressed—and toward the highly complex ecosystem within which research is conducted.

An update of an earlier appraisal published 1992, the 2017 NASEM report describes the transformation of research through advances in technology, globalization, increased interdisciplinarity, growing competition, and multiplying policy applications. It identifies six core values underlying research integrity—objectivity, openness, accountability, honesty, fairness and stewardship—and outlines best practices, including checklists, for all aspects of the research enterprise. I encourage you to read it and use these tools in your own work.

All the reports in the world won’t improve research integrity, however, if we don’t do the work in our institutions, departments, and research groups. There are many components to this effort, some of which are discussed in separate posts by my colleagues John P.A. Ioannidis and Barbara A. Spellman elsewhere in this symposium. Let’s focus here on institutional infrastructure.

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Vicarious Traumatization in the Wake of Community Violence: Healing the Helpers

This post is part of a series “Healing in the Wake of Community Violence: Lessons from Newtown and Beyond,” based on an event of the same name hosted at Harvard Law School in April 2017. Background on the series and links to other blog posts are here.

By Michelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD

depression_slideWhen a horrific violent event occurs, the community’s thoughts and efforts to help naturally extend out to the injured and traumatized survivors and the loved ones of those killed. However, the effects of such traumatic events ripple out beyond those so directly impacted. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), the definition of trauma includes not only direct exposure to actual or threatened death or serious injury, but also witnessing such an event or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of such an event. Under this more comprehensive definition, the circle of affected individuals in the wake of community violence widens to include professionals and community leaders who are tasked with tending to the safety, medical, emotional, instrumental, and spiritual needs of those wounded. These “helpers” include first responders (e.g., police officers, emergency medical technicians), medical and mental health professionals, case workers, and religious leaders. Continue reading