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!

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

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.

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

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 Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness

The Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness
April 18, 2018 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East AB (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Decision aids can be highly-effective tools to promote shared decision making and support patients in becoming engaged participants in their healthcare.  Join us for the first-ever convening with leaders behind a Washington experiment in certifying decision aids, as state officials, health systems, and on-the-ground implementation experts share lessons learned and discuss policy recommendations for national or statewide approaches to decision aid certification.  

Program Overview

Person-centered care presents a unique opportunity to achieve the Quadruple Aim, especially during serious illness when people are the most vulnerable. Building on the work of NQF and others, it is now clear that healthcare purchasers (states, plans, care providers) committed to person-centered care should also be committed to shared decision-making.

A number of policy initiatives have sought to increase the use of decision aids as an effective way to further shared decision making and person-centered care. Washington is the first – and so far only – state to recognize and act on this opportunity by establishing a process to certify decision aids across the health continuum, including during serious illness when people are the most vulnerable. The program will examine the Washington experience and also explore policy barriers for replication of the Washington model at the state and national levels.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

This event is part of the Project for Advanced Care and Health Policy, a collaboration between the Petrie-Flom Center and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), a non-partisan, non-profit alliance of over 130 national organizations dedicated to being a catalyst to change the health delivery system, empower consumers, enhance provider capacity and improve public and private policies in advanced illness care.

Learn more about the event here!

How to Fix Youth Sports Concussion Laws: Neuroscientific Perspectives

How to Fix Youth Sports Concussion Laws: Neuroscientific Perspectives
April 11, 2018 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

With growing neuroscientific research on sports concussions, states have revised their policies and statutes. Yet at present we have limited research on how these state sports concussion laws are working. This panel will explore the intersection of neuroscience and law in the context of preventing, detecting, and treating youth sports concussions.

Panelists

  • William Meehan, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Hosea Harvey, Associate Professor of Law and Associate Professor of Political Science (by courtesy), Temple University
  • Francis X. Shen, Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience at 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; Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School; Executive Director of Education and Outreach, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience

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.

Massachusetts Wants To Drive Down Medicaid Drug Costs: Why Is The Administration So Nervous?

This new post by Nicholas Bagley and Rachel Sachs appears on the Health Affairs Blog. 

Although drug formularies are ubiquitous in Medicare and the private insurance market, they’re absent in Medicaid. By law, state Medicaid programs that offer prescription drug coverage (as they all do) must cover all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however expensive they are and however slim their clinical benefits may be.

Massachusetts would like to change all that. In a recent waiver proposal, Massachusetts asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow it to adopt a closed formulary in Medicaid. That would allow Massachusetts to exclude certain brand-name drugs from Medicaid, increasing its leverage in price negotiations beyond what it can achieve through existing utilization management techniques like prior authorization.

Among Medicaid advocates, the proposal is controversial. Some fear that state budgets would be balanced on the backs of Medicaid beneficiaries, who could be denied access to expensive therapies. But Massachusetts thinks there’s room to drive down drug spending without threatening access to needed medications. In any event, the state has to do something. Drug spending in Massachusetts has increased, on average, 13 percent annually since 2010, threatening to “crowd out important spending on health care and other critical programs.”

By all rights, CMS should welcome Massachusetts’s proposal. Closed drug formularies are tried-and-true, market-based approaches to fostering competition over drug prices, and the Trump administration’s Council on Economic Advisers recently released a report saying that “government policy should induce price competition” in Medicaid. If Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar means it when he says that “drug prices are too high,” letting Massachusetts try out a formulary makes a ton of sense. […]

 Read the Full post here!

Rethinking Organ Donation: When Altruism Isn’t Enough

By: Gali Katznelson

The demand for donated organs greatly outweighs the supply. In the United States alone, there are roughly 115,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Every ten minutes, a new person is added to the recipient list, and every day, 20 people on the list die waiting. To be an organ donor in most states, residents can choose to add their names to the donor registry through a simple online or in-person process. But this “opt-in” system is failing to entice enough people to become organ donors. Currently, 54% of Americans are on the donor registry, but very few registrants are available to donate at a given time, in large part because the vast majority of registered donors have opted to do so posthumously. Better policies are needed to encourage more people to donate, both as living donors and as registered posthumous donors. It’s time to consider a non-monetary incentive system that prioritizes those who have signed up as organ donors.

Before jumping into an incentive-based system, let’s consider other options: namely “opt-out” and “mandated choice.” Following in the footsteps of 25 countries, including Spain and Wales, states such as Connecticut and Texas have made attempts to implement “opt-out” policies. In an “opt-out” system, each person is presumed to be an organ donor unless they explicitly choose not to be. Countries with opt-out policies have donor registration rates averaging 90%. But attempts to pass such legislation in the US have been met with fierce opposition. Likely, this is due to Americans’ unique emphasis on individual rights and skepticism of government control. Moreover, in such a system, family members may question the wishes of the deceased if they are unsure that the person was aware of the policy. In such cases, the family’s wishes will likely override the seemingly ambiguous wish of the deceased.

Alternatively, a “mandated choice” system is one in which people are faced with a compulsory choice regarding organ donation. In the US, Texas first tried this in the 1990s, where checking “yes” or “no” to organ donation became a condition for obtaining a driver’s license. Without adequate public education, 80% of people chose not to donate and the law was eventually repealed. More recently, Illinois experienced success with a mandated choice system. There, anyone receiving or renewing a driver’s license or an identification card is faced with the choice of becoming an organ donor. As a result, 60% of adults have now agreed to donate. This is a good start, but we can do better.

Continue reading

New E-Cigarette Dataset Available on LawAtlas.org: Explore the Regulatory Landscape!

Since their introduction to the United States market in 2006, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have quickly transformed from a novelty product into a widely used device for the delivery of nicotine and flavored vapors. In 2017, a nationally representative study found that 35.8% of high school seniors reported trying “vaping,” or using e-cigarettes, in comparison to the 26.6% who reported their use of traditional, combustible cigarettes. The study also found that 18.5% of eighth graders reported trying vaping. Youth acceptance of vaping has concerned public health advocates, who worry that the impacts of the successful campaign against tobacco could be reversed if vaping makes young people more likely to initiate smoking.

As of August 1, 2017, 49 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. federal law regulate e-cigarettes. The Center for Public Health Law Research has released a new dataset analyzing laws controlling electronic cigarettes now available on LawAtlas.org, the Policy Surveillance Program’s website dedicated to empirical legal datasets. This research reveals several important decisions that states make when regulating e-cigarettes.

First is whether e-cigarettes are regulated in the same way as traditional tobacco products. Incorporating e-cigarettes into the existing definition of “tobacco products,” is a common practice. As of August 1, 2017, 11 states and the District of Columbia consider e-cigarettes to be a tobacco product. Additionally, 12 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. federal law also regulate e-cigarettes similarly to traditional cigarettes by including the use of e-cigarettes in their definition of smoking. This often places e-cigarettes under the control of state clean indoor air acts, which restrict the use of e-cigarettes in the same areas where smoking traditional cigarettes is prohibited.

Another important legal distinction is whether e-cigarettes must contain nicotine. Eleven states and U.S. federal law require an e-cigarette to contain nicotine in order to be legally defined as an e-cigarette. Some e-cigarettes only deliver flavored vapor and do not deliver nicotine. Therefore, definitions of e-cigarettes that require nicotine content do not regulate e-cigarettes that only deliver flavoring. While flavorings may not contain addictive chemicals like nicotine, studies have shown that certain flavoring chemicals can produce harmful reactions in users’ lungs.

The dataset also captures requirements related to online purchasing and product packaging, including child-resistant packaging and nicotine concentration labeling requirements. Child-resistant packaging is important because the nicotine concentrations in the “e-liquids” vaporized by e-cigarettes are high enough to cause nicotine poisoning if ingested or even if touched. Further, online purchasing requirements are important because many e-cigarettes are purchased online and can be shipped to underage users illegally if website vendors are not scrupulous in their screening practices. As of August 1, 2017, 12 states require age verification by a third-party service for online purchases of e-cigarettes.

As medical and scientific researchers continue to publish studies on the potential public health impacts of e-cigarettes, the state regulatory landscape may evolve further. Although many studies conclude that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, their long-term effects are still unknown. To aid this research, the new policy surveillance Electronic Cigarette Laws data set serves as a resource for tracking the regulatory response of states as the consumption of e-cigarettes continues to expand.

The Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness

The Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness
April 18, 2018 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East AB (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Decision aids can be highly-effective tools to promote shared decision making and support patients in becoming engaged participants in their healthcare.  Join us for the first-ever convening with leaders behind a Washington experiment in certifying decision aids, as state officials, health systems, and on-the-ground implementation experts share lessons learned and discuss policy recommendations for national or statewide approaches to decision aid certification.  

Program Overview

Person-centered care presents a unique opportunity to achieve the Quadruple Aim, especially during serious illness when people are the most vulnerable. Building on the work of NQF and others, it is now clear that healthcare purchasers (states, plans, care providers) committed to person-centered care should also be committed to shared decision-making.

A number of policy initiatives have sought to increase the use of decision aids as an effective way to further shared decision making and person-centered care. Washington is the first – and so far only – state to recognize and act on this opportunity by establishing a process to certify decision aids across the health continuum, including during serious illness when people are the most vulnerable. The program will examine the Washington experience and also explore policy barriers for replication of the Washington model at the state and national levels.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

This event is part of the Project for Advanced Care and Health Policy, a collaboration between the Petrie-Flom Center and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), a non-partisan, non-profit alliance of over 130 national organizations dedicated to being a catalyst to change the health delivery system, empower consumers, enhance provider capacity and improve public and private policies in advanced illness care.

Learn more about the event here!

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.

Continue reading

NEW EVENT! 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!

REGISTER NOW! Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery

Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery
May 10-11, 2018 1:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
 

Economic ordeals are interventions that deliberately make access to products or services more difficult in an effort to improve resource allocation. In this vein, making patients wait in long lines to schedule an appointment with a specialist might discourage patients with needs that could be met by less qualified personnel from taking up the specialist’s time, thus freeing up time for those with complex needs. Similarly, putting brand-name medications at the bottom of a long list of options on clinicians’ computers might encourage them to prescribe a generic brand listed closer to the top.

Recent research in development economics, behavioral economics, and health policy suggests that some economic ordeals could help target health resources to patients who are more likely to utilize these resources, without the regressive effects of co-pays and other forms of financial participation on the part of patients. However, making health care deliberately less accessible raises ethical challenges. Is it not the case that ordeals discourage utilization by patients with acute needs? Do these ordeals affect some disadvantaged populations disproportionately? And do deliberate obstacles to health resource utilization violate the human right to health?

This workshop will bring together leading scholars in economics, ethics, health policy, public health, medicine, sociology, and law to explore these questions.

This event is organized by Nir Eyal, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Anders Herlitz, PhD, Visiting Scientist, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Co-sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Register for and learn more about the event here!

Improving Mental Health Care in the NHS

By John Tingle

The Guardian newspaper recently published it’s investigation into Coroners Prevention of Future Deaths Notices (PFDN’s) issued between 2012-2017 involving people receiving NHS care for mental health conditions. The findings from its investigation are shocking; many cases deaths could have been prevented had better care been given. Some errors identified are classic patient safety errors and these included:

  • Poor communication between agencies and/or staff, non-observation of protocols or policies (or lack of protocols or policies.
  • Lack of appropriate care or continuity of care.
  • Poor record keeping, poor communications with the patient or his or her family.
  • Insufficient risk assessment  and delays.

The investigation revealed 45 cases reported by the coroner where patients were discharged too soon or without adequate support. Seventy-two instances of poor or inappropriate care, 41 cases where treatment was delayed.

Children and young people’s mental health
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the the independent regulator of health and social care in England and they have recently reviewed children and young people’s mental health services and have found significant systems failures which could well put children and young people at risk of harm. Mental health problems are the report states, quite common in children and young people with estimates suggesting around 1 in 10 being affected.

Continue reading

The Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness

The Development and Certification of Decision Aids: Promoting Shared Decision-Making for Patients with Serious Illness
April 18, 2018 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East AB (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Decision aids can be highly-effective tools to promote shared decision making and support patients in becoming engaged participants in their healthcare.  Join us for the first-ever convening with leaders behind a Washington experiment in certifying decision aids, as state officials, health systems, and on-the-ground implementation experts share lessons learned and discuss policy recommendations for national or statewide approaches to decision aid certification.  

Program Overview

Person-centered care presents a unique opportunity to achieve the Quadruple Aim, especially during serious illness when people are the most vulnerable. Building on the work of NQF and others, it is now clear that healthcare purchasers (states, plans, care providers) committed to person-centered care should also be committed to shared decision-making.

Continue reading

Gun Violence and Public Health: The Need for Federal Research Funding

By: Gali Katznelson

In the wake of yet another school massacre, ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough. But if we don’t get more laws and regulations soon, we should at least get more facts and figures.

Though approximately 30,000 people die of gun related violence each year in America, a 2017 study found that gun violence is the least studied of the top 30 causes of death in America. To put this into perspective, gun violence kills as many people in America as sepsis, yet gun violence research has just 0.7% of the funding that sepsis does, and only 4% of its publication volume.

Bioethicists have been criticized for staying out of the gun violence debate. So here’s my bioethical opinion: withholding government funding for lifesaving research as children are massacred across the country is unethical.

Continue reading

Psychoneuroimmunology and the mind’s impact on health

If you are a skier like me, you likely revelled in watching the alpine skiing events during this years’ Olympic Winter Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Having raced myself when I was younger, I recall the feeling of being in the starting gate with all the anticipation and excitement it brings. But my memories are more than mere recollections of “images” in my head, for I also have vivid muscle memory, and when watching and cheering for Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, I can literally feel my leg muscles contract as if I were on the course myself. Because I skied for so much of my life, my experience now as a spectator brings me back to the hardwired responses that I can call up even to this day in a very intuitive way simply by visualizing a course.

Researchers at Stanford have now corroborated what athletes and psychologists have long believed: that visualizing ourselves performing a task, such as skiing down a race course, or engaged in other routines, improves our performance and increases our success rate. The findings, reported by neuroscientists in Neuron, suggest that mental rehearsal prepares our minds for real-world action. Using a new tool called a brain-machine interface, the researchers have shown how mental learning translates into physical performance and offers a potentially new way to study and understand the mind.

Could this new tool assist us in replicating cognitive responses to real-world settings in a controlled environment? More studies will need to be carried out in order to further test these findings and better understand the results. And one potential point to take into account is that preforming a real action is different than performing the same task mentally via a brain-imaging interface given that one’s muscles, skeletal system, and nervous system are all working in tandem; but, a brain-imaging interface would indeed seem to have very practical implications for those who use prosthetics or are who are paralyzed. As our knowledge of biomechanics and neuroscience advances, as well as our capabilities to interface the two, we may be able to utilize this technology to assist us in creating more life-like prosthetics and perhaps, harnessing the mind’s inborn processes and complex synapses, help others walk again.

Looking toward the future, another interesting subject of research would be to use a brain-imaging interface to study psychoneuroimmunology. We may not have the technology or ability to conduct such a study at the moment, but it seems plausible that in the near future we could develop the tools needed to conduct more rigorous research on the interactions between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems. If visualizing winning a ski race improves our performance, why not also envisioning good health outcomes: resilient bodies, strong immune systems, plentiful and efficient white blood cells. Simply willing ourselves to health might not be possible, but, to be sure, having a positive outlook has been shown to impact the outcome of disease, while conversely, increased levels of fear and distress before surgery have been associated with worse outcomes. These are but a few examples of the increasing evidence of the mind’s impact on health. It highlights the importance of recognizing a holistic approach that considers the roles of behavior, mood, thought, and psychology in bodily homeostasis. 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.

Continue reading

TOMORROW! Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred

Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred
February 28, 2018 5:15 PM – 7:15 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1023
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Is addiction a disease? And does it matter for the criminal law? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court now faces these questions in the potentially landmark case, Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred. The Court must decide if it is constitutional for the criminal justice system to require addicted offenders to remain drug free. Is this requirement like asking a patient in cancer remission not to get cancer again? Or is it simply requiring someone to make better decisions? As the country faces an opioid epidemic, the case has drawn national attention.

Join us at Harvard Law School for a conversation with key legal and scientific experts involved in the case. Confirmed participants include: defense attorney Lisa Newman-Polk, and psychologist Dr. Gene Heyman, scientific expert in support of the Commonwealth.

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!