Health Class and Personal Preferences

By Nathaniel Counts

High school health classes that are effective in preventing high-risk behaviors employ two educational models: the social influences model and the life skills model.  The social influences model teaches children about social norms and techniques for resisting social influences.  The life skills focuses on developing child autonomy, self-esteem, and self-confidence to help children resist social influences and gain a sense of self.  There are two explanations for why health classes premised on these models would be effective: either they replace the preferences the children were likely to develop with different preferences or they help children develop their own preferences which, for some reason, consistently disfavor high-risk behaviors.

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5/2-3: Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy”

Petrie-Flom Center 2014 Annual Conference: Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy

May 2-3, 2014

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein’s book  Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness brought behavioral economics to the masses, beginning a discussion of libertarian paternalism and the many ways that “choice architects” can help nudge people to make better choices for themselves without forcing certain outcomes on anyone. Some of their examples fall in the realm of health policy, as is also the case of Daniel Kahneman’s recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which examines various cognitive errors people make in their judgments, choices, and conclusions, as well as how we might correct them.  But the conversation has only just begun.

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New Joint Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience

The MGH Center for Law, Brain and Behavior and Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center announce joint “Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience” for 2014-2016

The MGH Center for Law, Brain and Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School will collaborate on a joint venture – the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience – beginning in Fall 2014. The collaboration will include a Senior Fellow in residence, public symposia, and an HLS Law and Neuroscience Seminar.

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New Profile of Petrie-Flom Annual Conf. Keynote Speaker Cass Sunstein

From the article. (Nadav Kander/Trunk Archive)

The Atlantic has just published a new piece profiling Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, “Our Nudge in Chief,” exploring “How, and why, Cass Sunstein believes laws and public policies should help save us from our irrational impulses.”

Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, will deliver the keynote lecture at the Petrie-Flom Center’s upcoming annual conference, “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy,” on Friday, May 2. His talk is entitled “Choosing Not to Choose.” You can find out more about the conference here.

Read the full profile.

Art Caplan on “Pediatric Euthanasia in Belgium: Disturbing Developments”

Art Caplan has coauthored a new piece in JAMA on problems with Belgium’s new law allowing terminally-ill children and their families to choose euthanasia. From the article:

The Belgian pediatric euthanasia law seeks to respect the moral status of children as agents who possess the nascent capacity for self-determination. Specifically, the law requires the medical team to demonstrate a patient has the “capacity for discernment,” indicating that he or she understands the consequences of a choice for euthanasia.

What the law does not consider, however, is that adults choose euthanasia for reasons that go beyond pain. For adults, the decision to end their life can be based upon the fear of a loss of control, not wanting to burden others, or the desire not to spend their final days of life fully sedated. These desires might be supported by the experience they have had witnessing a loved one express a loss of dignity or because they understand what terminal sedation is and wish to refuse it. Children, however, lack the intellectual capacity to develop a sophisticated preference against palliative interventions of last resort. Instead, in the case of the new Belgian law, children seem to be asked to choose between unbearable suffering on the one hand and death on the other.

This possibility causes the Belgian euthanasia law to fall short of the standard required for valid assent. The criterion related to the “capacity for discernment” runs the risk of ignoring the fact that children and adolescents lack the experiential knowledge and sense of self that adults often invoke—rightly or wrongly—at the end of their lives.

Read the full article.

Lax Enforcement of Vaccine Laws Put Young Adults at Risk

The news about the return of dangerous “childhood” illnesses gets worse and worse. Columbus, Ohio reports an outbreak of 225 cases—with over 50% students at Ohio State University.   It is probably no coincidence that Ohio State recommends but does not require students (outside of those in healthcare settings) be vaccinated in order to attend class.   It’s not just Mumps.  We are seeing cases of preventable diseases like measles and mumps and whooping cough because of parental decisions not to immunize their children but there is increasing evidence that the immunizations most adults received as infants or young children wear off—leaving the population at large vulnerable to infection once an outbreak occurs. Science Daily just reported a confirmed case of a fully vaccinated young woman contracting measles.  The CDC has not yet recommended that adults get booster shots for Mumps and Measles—although they have in some circumstances for Whooping Cough and Polio.  But the more likely it is for a person to be exposed to these diseases, the more important it is to be fully vaccinated.

So why is the law to blame here?  Continue reading

FOR HARVARD STUDENTS: TOMORROW: Dallas Buyers Club: Free Film Screening and Discussion

Image by christian razukas from Wikimedia Commons.

Dallas Buyers Club: Free Film Screening and Panel Discussion

April 16, 2014 6:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall 1010, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

Students from across Harvard are invited to view a free screening of the Academy-award winning film Dallas Buyers Club and participate in a panel discussion about issues addressed in the film related to access to health care for the HIV community.  The panel discussion will address the following issues: the history of access to care and treatment for HIV; ongoing issues with fair pricing of HIV medications; the role of the FDA in access to experimental medicines; and the portrayal of HIV and LGBTQI individuals in the media as it impacts access to individual and public health resources. Panelists include:

  • Robert Greenwald, Director, Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation; Clinical Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
  • Christopher T. Robertson, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Affiliate, Petrie-Flom Center
  • Grace Sterling Stowell, Executive Director, BAGLY: Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth

This event is open to students from all Harvard schools.  No pre-registration is required.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics; and Lambda at Harvard Law School.

Petrie-Flom Intern’s Weekly Round-Up, 4/4-4/11

By Chloe Reichel

Following the release of information on Medicare billing practices, it was revealed that approximately 4,000 physicians each billed over $1 million in 2012. This data may shed light on medical billing procedures.

Despite a proposed 1.9 percent cut to the Medicare Advantage program, these cuts will not be implemented. On Monday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that funding to Medicare Advantage will increase by an average of .4 percent in 2015.

Though genetic testing is becoming cheaper and more accessible, many Americans refrain from getting tested. This is because the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act does not protect consumers from discrimination for life, disability, and long-term care insurance plans.

On Friday, Kathleen Sebelius, current Secretary of Health and Human Services, will resign from her role. Sebelius oversaw the oft-criticized implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has been selected by President Obama to fill the role. Burwell served in the Clinton administration, and was president of the Walmart Foundation, prior to her work with the Obama administration.

This Thursday the European Parliament debated a petition that would prevent the allocation of EU funds for research, aid, and public health programs that involve the destruction of human embryos. The petition had 1.8 million signatures, and is seen as a sign of popular support for social conservatism.

Hawaii’s extensive health system has led to excellent health outcomes for the state’s residents and the state’s budget, since the state has some of the lowest healthcare costs in the nation. Hawaii has near-universal health insurance coverage, and starting forty years ago, has required employers to provide health benefits to their employees.

On Saturday, Maryland legislators voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those found in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana will now be charged with civil fines, as opposed to criminal penalties.

FOR HARVARD STUDENTS: 4/16: Dallas Buyers Club: Free Film Screening and Discussion

Image by christian razukas from Wikimedia Commons.

Dallas Buyers Club: Free Film Screening and Panel Discussion

April 16, 2014 6:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall 1010, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

Students from across Harvard are invited to view a free screening of the Academy-award winning film Dallas Buyers Club and participate in a panel discussion about issues addressed in the film related to access to health care for the HIV community.  The panel discussion will address the following issues: the history of access to care and treatment for HIV; ongoing issues with fair pricing of HIV medications; the role of the FDA in access to experimental medicines; and the portrayal of HIV and LGBTQI individuals in the media as it impacts access to individual and public health resources. Panelists include:

  • Robert Greenwald, Director, Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation; Clinical Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
  • Christopher T. Robertson, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Affiliate, Petrie-Flom Center
  • Grace Sterling Stowell, Executive Director, BAGLY: Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth

This event is open to students from all Harvard schools.  No pre-registration is required.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics; and Lambda at Harvard Law School.

TOMORROW: Hot Topics at Presidential Commission on Bioethics

Hot Topics at the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues: Plus Q&A on Careers in Law and Bioethics!

Friday, April 11, 2014, 12:00pm

Pound Hall 100, Harvard Law School, 1563 Massachusetts Ave.

Please join us for an update from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, delivered by Michelle Groman (HLS ’05), Associate Director at the Bioethics Commission.  Since its inception in 2009, President Obama’s Commission has issued reports on synthetic biology, human subjects research, whole genome sequencing, pediatric medical countermeasure research, and incidental findings. Currently, the Commission is examining the ethical implications of neuroscience research and the application of neuroscience research findings as part of the federal government’s BRAIN Initiative.  The Commission also has developed educational materials to support teaching of bioethics ideas, principles, and theories in traditional and non-traditional settings.

This final half-hour of this event will feature a discussion of career opportunities in law and bioethics, led by Ms. Groman and Holly Fernandez Lynch, Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director.  Bring your questions!

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served.

For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu, or 617-496-4662.

Cosponsored by the Office of Career Services at Harvard Law School. This event is supported by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund.

Killing for Species Health

In the past few months, the Copenhagen Zoo has killed a giraffe and four lions in order to protect the genetic health of their breeding populations, generating significant international backlash and highlighting difficult questions about the value of species preservation.

The international controversy surrounding the zoo’s actions began in February, when it killed a healthy 18-month old giraffe with a bolt pistol, performed a public autopsy on his body (video), and then fed his remains to the zoo’s lions and other big cats in front of the public (video).  A bolt pistol was used, rather than an injection, so that his meat would be safe to eat.  A statement from the zoo explained that it had decided to kill this giraffe because his genes were “well represented in the breeding programme,” such that allowing him to grow into an adult and breed was “unwanted.”  Zoo officials turned down adoption offers from other zoos on the grounds that this would have left open the door to inbreeding and potentially removed a place for a giraffe whose genetic makeup was more valuable in terms of future offspring in captive breeding programs.  (The statement also addresses a variety of other interesting “health law” questions, such as “Why are the giraffes not given contraceptives?”).

The controversy gained further momentum two weeks ago, when the zoo announced that it had killed four lions—a 16 year-old male lion, a 14 year-old lioness, and their cubs—to clear the path for a newly arrived young male lion.  (It is unclear whether these specific lions were among those who had previously eaten the giraffe).   A statement from the zoo explained that it had decided to kill these lions based on several population-level concerns, including that the 16 year-old male might have someday mated with his female offspring creating a problem of inbreeding, or that the new young male might have mated with the 14 year-old lioness instead of younger females with greater reproductive fitness.

While the idea that these types of killings can be justified on the grounds that they protect the health of the genetic populations of which the individual animals are a part is fairly common, it is unclear whether “health” is actually an appropriate concept to apply to an entity such as an animal’s species.    Continue reading

Whose Business Is It If You Want To Induce a Bee To Sting Your Penis?

Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

You might think that the answer to this question is obvious. Clearly, it’s your business, and yours alone, right? I mean, sure, maybe it would be considerate to discuss the potential ramifications of this activity with your partner. And you might want to consider the welfare of the bee. But other than that, whose business could it possibly be?

Well, as academic empiricists know, what others can do freely, they often require permission to do. Journalists, for instance, can ask potentially traumatizing questions to children without having to ask whether the risk to these children of interviewing them is justified by the expected knowledge to be gained; academics, by contrast, have to get permission from their institution’s IRB first (and often that permission never comes).

So, too, with potentially traumatizing yourself — at least if you’re an academic who’s trying to induce a bee to sting your penis in order to produce generalizable knowledge, rather than for some, um, other purpose.

Yesterday, science writer Ed Yong reported a fascinating self-experiment conducted by Michael Smith, a Cornell graduate student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior who studies the behavior and evolution of honeybees. As Ed explains, when, while doing his other research, a honeybee flew up Smith’s shorts and stung his testicles, Smith was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt as much as he expected. He began to wonder which body parts would really smart if they were stung by a bee and was again surprised to learn that there was a gap in the literature on this point. So he decided to conduct an experiment on himself. (In addition to writing about the science of bee stings to the human penis, Ed is also your go-to guy for bat fellatio and cunnilingus, the spiky penises of beetles and spiders, and coral orgies.)

As Ed notes, Smith explains in his recently published paper reporting the results of his experiment, Honey bee sting pain index by body location, that

Cornell University’s Human Research Protection Program does not have a policy regarding researcher self-experimentation, so this research was not subject to review from their offices. The methods do not conflict with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, revised in 1983. The author was the only person stung, was aware of all associated risks therein, gave his consent, and is aware that these results will be made public.

As Ed says, Smith’s paper is “deadpan gold.” But on this point, it’s also wrong. Continue reading

4/10 Book Launch: The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children

Thursday, April 10, 2014, 12:00pm

Wasserstein Hall 2019A, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

Please join us for the launch of Professor Ross E. Cheit‘s new book The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children (Oxford University Press, April 2014). It has become widely accepted that a series of high-profile child sexual abuse cases from the 1980s and early 1990s were “witch hunts.” That view first took hold in the media, then spread to the courts and academia. But purveyors of the witch-hunt narrative never did the hard work of examining court records in the many cases that reached the courts throughout the nation. Drawing on fifteen years of original trial research into these child sex abuse cases, Cheit challenges the accuracy of the narrative. The launch event will feature panel discussion including:

  • Ross E. Cheit, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Brown University
  • Jeannie Suk, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
  • Alan A. Stone, MD, Touroff-Glueck Professor of Law and Psychiatry, Harvard Law School

This event is free and open to the public.

For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

Twitter Round Up

This week’s twitter round up features a variety of topics from our contributors, from discussions about health care spending and the Affordable Care Act to articles about environmental poisoning of soldiers in Iraq.

  • Amitabh Chandra tweeted that “Healthcare spending growth hits a 10yr high… so much for ‘ACA is bending the cost curve’” and shared an article from USA Today.
  • Frank Pasquale shared a blog entry by Larry Backer about Pennsylvania State University students’ worries about the rise of health care costs.
  • I. Glenn Cohen shared a link to an article in The New York Times entitled “‘Environmental Poisoning’ of Iraq Is Claimed” and states that many veterans suffer from environmental poisoning while the “IOM [is] not sure.”
  • Kate Greenwood retweeted Austin Frakt and an article from The Incidental Economist about the negative impact of the insurance market before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act on entrepreneurship.
  • Stephen Latham tweeted a link to his blog reporting on the recent announcement of the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut Legislature that it does not plan to vote on a bill addressing “Aid-In-Dying” or physician-assisted suicide despite “61% public support for the bill.”