A Look at the ALS and Ebola Responses

By Deborah Cho

I’m a little late to this discussion, but I want to talk briefly about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and how we make our decisions on charitable giving.

I’m sure by now most readers understand the basic concept of the challenge: individuals can choose to either record a video of themselves pouring ice water over their heads or to donate money to the ALS Association (or both — the rules don’t seem to be particularly consistent in application).   After the challenge is undertaken, the video is shared on social media or a message is posted announcing that the individual has donated, and then the individual “nominates” others for the challenge.

This challenge has virtually taken over the web in the past couple weeks (perhaps, as one writer commented, because it lets participants “(a) exhibit his altruism publicly and (b) show off how good he looks soaking wet.”), raising over 88 million dollars as of August 26, 2014.  As expected, however, the challenge was not without its very vocal critics.  Many were opposed to the narcissistic nature of the challenge, while others, more relevantly, questioned donating so much money to a charity and to fight a disease based on an internet fad. Continue reading

Art Caplan: Is It Fair That Americans Received the Ebola Treatment?

Art Caplan has a new video on Medscape laying out the principles behind rationing limited supplies of experimental ebola treatments. As he explains:

I believe the answer to the question of who should receive the drug is: people we can both learn from and potentially help the most. I believe those are the 2 values we use when trying to ration access to an experimental drug. If we do not learn whether something is safe and effective, then we have missed an opportunity, even in the middle of an epidemic, to find out whether it is worth giving out drugs that are new, untested, and unapproved. People who should be included are those who can be observed and kept under surveillance — not for a day or a week but probably for months and years. That favors people who are not in rural villages. That favors people who will have access to hospital facilities. Those criteria will drive the selection of who receives a new, unapproved drug.

Click here to see the video and read more.

Ethics of experimental Ebola interventions

In “Ethical considerations of experimental interventions in the Ebola outbreak“, published yesterday by The Lancet, Zeke Emanuel and I discuss what we take to be the key ethical questions about the use of Zmapp and other investigational agents in the current Ebola epidemic. In essence, we argue that the national and international response to the epidemic should focus on containment and strengthening health systems, rather than experimental treatments and vaccines; that experimental interventions, if they are used, should be distributed fairly and only in the context of clinical trials; and that advance planning is needed for research in future Ebola and other epidemics, as well as for making any proven interventions against Ebola accessible in affected regions.

The full article is available open access. Be sure to check out the Lancet’s new Ebola Resource Centre as well, which includes many other interesting pieces and a podcast (access here podcast) covering—among other things—our paper.

Art Caplan: WHO Ethics Committee on Ebola Just a Start

Art Caplan has a series of new opinion pieces out on the WHO ethics advisory committee meeting that approved the use of experimental drugs to treat patients ill with Ebola.

He suggests deeper exploration of issues of informed consent, corporate responsibility, and resource allocation in this blog post for The Health Care Blog. As he writes in his piece in NBC News Health:

It is important that the WHO committee affirmed the morality of compassionate use. This addresses the concern that any use of unapproved drugs is inherently exploitative. But there are huge ethical issues that still remain unaddressed and unanswered regarding experimental interventions.

In the wake of the Canadian government’s offering 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine to the stricken nations, he also extends the argument from allocation of treatment to allocation of prophylaxis in this opinion piece in NBC News Health:

It is ethically appropriate in the midst of a deadly contagious epidemic to try both untested treatments and experimental preventative vaccines that have shown some promise in animals and no safety issues. But with only 1,000 doses of vaccine available, who should get them? And what do they need to be told?

The most ethical way to distribute limited experimental vaccine, is, as the WHO ethics group noted, with an eye toward collecting information on safety and efficacy. Rather than just handing out vaccine to a small group of people in countries that have seen Ebola outbreaks, it is important to learn as much as possible about whether the vaccine has any efficacy in humans and is safe.

You can read more at the links above.

Art Caplan: Ebola Treatment Distribution is Troubling

Amidst news from Spain that a 75-year-old Catholic priest has received the experimental treatment ZMapp for Ebola, Art Caplan critiques what he describes as the “bad science” behind choosing its recipients:

ZMapp is not the answer to the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa. There is no chance of getting a significant amount of this drug made for many months. Deploying more health care workers, face guards, moon suits, gloves and antiseptic, along with restrictions on travel and burying the dead, is the only way to get the epidemic under control. [...]

The fact that a 75-year-old has been given the scarce drug is especially disturbing, not because he is 75 but because 75-year-olds do not have strong immune systems — something very important in battling a virus like Ebola. Moreover 75-year-olds often have other medical problems that complicate the ability of scientists to figure out if the drug is safe and if it is really working.

In testing unapproved, highly risky drugs like ZMapp, it is crucial that recipients not be so sick that they may well die regardless of whether they get the drug or not. Indeed, the recipients ought not be very sick so that side-effects can be seen and efficacy determined. To do that, doctors need to be able to monitor experimental subjects for months to make sure the drug does not damage their livers or cause any other fatal side-effect. So not every person infected with Ebola makes for the best recipient — younger, those more recently infected and those who can be closely monitored are among the “best” candidates.

You can read more of Art Caplan’s perspective on NBC News Health here.

Ebola, Ethics, and the WHO Getting to Yes

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization, responding both to the international outcry over the rapidly rising number of Ebola cases and deaths across sub-Saharan Africa (and critiques of the speed of their action), and the news that western health care workers and ministry had found ways to get access to the untested-in-humans Ebola drug ZMapp, convened a panel of ethicists to offer recommendations on more widespread use of experimental Ebola treatments.

The issues considered by the ethicists included:

1) Whether it is ethical to use unregistered interventions with unknown adverse effects for possible treatment or prophylaxis. If it is, what criteria and conditions need to be satisfied before they can be used?

2) If it is ethical to use these unregistered interventions in the circumstances mentioned above, then what criteria should guide the choice of the intervention and who should receive priority for treatment or prevention?

Continue reading

Art Caplan: Why do two white Americans get the Ebola serum while hundreds of Africans die?

As the WHO announced today that medical ethicists will convene next week in New York to discuss the use of experimental medicines in the West African Ebola outbreak, Art Caplan has a timely new opinion piece in the Washington Post asking why only white American victims of the Ebola outbreak have been treated with an experimental serum. Caplan argues that the decision was a question of economics:

The reasons for different treatment are partly about logistics, partly about economics and, partly about a lack of any standard policy for giving out untested drugs in emergencies. Before this outbreak, ZMapp had only been tested on monkeys. Mapp, the tiny, San Diego based pharmaceutical company that makes the drug stated two years ago: “When administered one hour after infection [with Ebola], all animals survived…Two-thirds of the animals were protected even when the treatment, known as Zmapp, was administered 48 hours after infection.”

But privileged humans were always going to be the first ones to try it. ZMapp requires a lot of refrigeration and careful handling, plus close monitoring by experienced doctors and scientists—better to try it at a big urban hospital than in rural West Africa, where no such infrastructure exists. [...]

But it’s about more than logistics. Drugs based on monoclonal antibodies usually cost a lot—at least tens of thousands of dollars. This is obviously far more than poor people in poor nations can afford to pay; and a tiny company won’t enthusiastically give away its small supply of drug for free. It is likely that if they were going to donate drugs, it would be to people who would command a lot of press attention and, thus, investors and government money for further research—which is to say, not to poor Liberians, Nigerians or Guineans. [...]

To get Caplan’s full perspective, read the full article.

Art Caplan: The Real Reasons for Worrying About Ebola

Art Caplan has a new opinion piece on NBC News responding to the recent media coverage of Ebola. He makes the case that although this has been the worst recorded outbreak of the disease, citizens of developed countries have little reason to panic:

Ebola is not going to run amok in downtown Boston, Cape May or Myrtle Beach or anywhere else in the U.S. It is running amok in poor African nations because local authorities did not have the will or the resources to respond quickly, because no one confronted local funeral customs that expose people to Ebola, mainly because the world did not care much if hundreds died in poor, politically insignificant nations.

The harsh ethical truth is the Ebola epidemic happened because few people in the wealthy nations of the world cared enough to do anything about it.

Read the full article.

Art Caplan: Everyday Ethics

Art CaplanBill of Health Contributor Art Caplan and ethicist Kelly McBride have launched a new twice-weekly podcast, Everyday Ethics, in which they explore the moral dimensions of our everyday lives. Recent topics have included conflicts of interest on Dr. Oz, recent “Right to Try” laws, and Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccination campaigns.

You can access the podcast online here, or subscribe to it on iTunes.

Immediate Job Opening: Clinical Ethicist at Boston Children’s Hospital

Clinical Ethicist

Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston, MA

The Office of Ethics at Boston Children’s Hospital has an immediate opening for a clinical ethicist. 

Applications are being accepted online, at www.childrenshospital.jobs.   To locate the position on the website, enter “32902BR” in the box labeled “AutoReqID.”

Boston Children’s Hospital is a 395-licensed-bed children’s hospital in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area of Boston, Massachusetts. At 300 Longwood Avenue, Children’s is adjacent to its teaching affiliate, Harvard Medical School.

Job description: Clinical Ethicist 32902BR

The Clinical Ethicist provides formal and informal ethics consultations.  Organizes and participates in clinical ethics rounds, and collaborates with clinical teams, patients and families, to address ethical issues in pediatric health care and research. Develops ethics resources and education and serves as a facilitator for change directed toward strengthening the Hospital staff’s sense of moral responsibility and moral community.

Continue reading

Serious Risks from New Prescription Drugs

by Donald W. Light

Based on http://www.ethics.harvard.edu/lab/blog/436-new-prescription-drugs-a-major-health-risk

Few people know that new prescription drugs have a 1 in 5 chance of causing serious reactions after they have been approved. That is why expert physicians recommend not taking new drugs for at least five years unless patients have first tried better-established options and need to. Faster reviews advocated by the industry-funded public regulators increase the risk of serious harm to 1 in 3. Yet most drugs they approve are found to have few offsetting clinical advantages over existing ones.

Systematic reviews of hospital charts by expert teams have found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients given drugs have serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million. Further, the expert teams attributed as many deaths to the drugs as people who die from stroke. A policy review done at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University concluded that prescription drugs are tied with stroke as the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. The European Commission estimates that adverse reactions from prescription drugs cause 200,000 deaths; so together, about 328,000 patients in the US and Europe die from prescription drugs each year. The FDA does not acknowledge these facts and instead gathers a small fraction of the cases.

Perhaps this is “the price of progress”? For example, about 170 million Americans take prescription drugs, and many benefit from them. For some, drugs keep them alive. If we suppose they all benefit, then 2.7 million people have a severe reactions, it’s only about 1.5 percent – the price of progress?

However, independent reviews over the past 35 years have found that only 11-15 percent of newly approved drugs have significant clinical advantages over existing, better-known drugs. While these contribute to the large medicine chest of effective drugs developed over the decades, the 85-89 percent with little or no clinical advantage flood the market. Of the additional $70 billion spent on drugs since 2000 in the U.S. (and another $70 billion abroad), about four-fifths has been spent on purchasing these minor new variations rather than on the really innovative drugs.

In a recent decade, independent reviewers concluded that only 8 percent of 946 new products were clinically superior, down from 11-15 percent in previous decades. (See Figure) Only 2 were breakthroughs and another 13 represented a real therapeutic advance.

Continue reading

When you Can Shed Blood for your Country but not Donate it

Portsmouth, Va. (Jan. 5, 2005) - A hospital corpsman assigned to USS Bataan (LHD 5), donates a pint of blood during the blood drive held by the Blood Donor Team. The Blood Donor Team stationed at Portsmouth Naval Hospital visits multiple commands throughout the area in efforts to boost the blood supply for the U.S. Armed Forces around the world. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

A hospital corpsman donates a pint of blood. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

I have a new article in JAMA this week, “Reconsideration of the Lifetime Ban on Blood Donation by Men Who Have Sex With Men,” co-authored with my former student Jeremy Feigenbaum and my frequent co-author Dr. Eli Adashi (former Dean of Medicine at Brown). In the article we show that FDA’s current policy is morally, ethically, and legally problematic. We are out of step with our peer countries (including the UK, Canada, South Africa) who do delay when men who have sex with men can give blood but not for a lifetime, the way the U.S. does. It is remarkable that if you have sex with a female prostitute or a woman who is HIV+ you face only a 12-month deferral in the U.S. but if you have had sex with a man, just once, ever, no matter his HIV status you face a lifetime delay.

We are in a world where the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down as unconstitutional, where Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been struck down so that gay men and lesbians can proudly serve their country and shed blood (their own, others) on the battlefield. It is time to change a 30-yr old policy prohibiting them giving blood. What’s more, given the the Windsor decision and the recent Ninth Circuit application of heightened scrutiny to the exclusion of gay jurors for jury duty, we think there are serious constitutional questions about FDA’s policy as well.

My preferred approach, and the one I think FDA should move towards, is the Italian “test and assess” which has no blanket classification of MSM but instead does individualized risk assessment. As we describe in our paper thus far has not increased the risk of HIV+ blood making its way into the blood supply.

The Williams Institute in 2010 estimated that 6% of men had at least once had sex with another man, meaning there are potentially 7.2 million men who could become blood donors but are excluded by FDA’s rule. We owe it not only to these men, but also to all those who could benefit from their blood donations to revisit this rule.

Michelle Meyer: Misjudgements Will Drive Social Trials Underground

Michelle Meyer has a new piece in Nature – an open letter on the Facebook study signed by a group of bioethicists (including PFC’s Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch) in which she argues that a Facebook study that manipulated news feeds was not definitively unethical and offered valuable insight into social behavior.

From the piece:

“Some bioethicists have said that Facebook’s recent study of user behavior is “scandalous”, “violates accepted research ethics” and “should never have been performed”. I write with 5 co-authors, on behalf of 27 other ethicists, to disagree with these sweeping condemnations (see go.nature.com/XI7szI).

We are making this stand because the vitriolic criticism of this study could have a chilling effect on valuable research. Worse, it perpetuates the presumption that research is dangerous.”

Read the full article.

Petrie-Flom Center Launches New Book on Human Subjects Research Regulation

Human Subjects Research Regulations Book CoverThe Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to announce publication of Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future (MIT Press 2014), co-edited by Petrie-Flom Center Faculty Director, I. Glenn Cohen, and Executive Director, Holly Fernandez Lynch.  This edited volume stems from the Center’s 2012 annual conference, which brought together leading experts in a conversation about whether and how the current system of human subjects research regulation in the U.S. ought to change to fit evolving trends, fill substantial gaps, and respond to identified shortcomings.

The book is currently available from MIT Press and Amazon, in hardcover and paperback.  We will be hosting a book discussion at Harvard Law School on October 22, and in Baltimore on December 5 at Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIMR)’s annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference.  Details will be announced shortly.

 From the book jacket:

 The current framework for the regulation of human subjects research emerged largely in reaction to the horrors of Nazi human experimentation, revealed at the Nuremburg trials, and the Tuskegee syphilis study, conducted by U.S. government researchers from 1932 to 1972. This framework, combining elements of paternalism with efforts to preserve individual autonomy, has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades. Yet, as this book documents, it has significant flaws—including its potential to burden important research, overprotect some subjects and inadequately protect others, generate inconsistent results, and lag behind developments in how research is conducted. Invigorated by the U.S. government’s first steps toward change in over twenty years, Human Subjects Research Regulation brings together the leading thinkers in this field from ethics, law, medicine, and public policy to discuss how to make the system better. The result is a collection of novel ideas—some incremental, some radical—for the future of research oversight and human subject protection.

After reviewing the history of U.S. research regulations, the contributors consider such topics as risk-based regulation; research involving vulnerable populations (including military personnel, children, and prisoners); the relationships among subjects, investigators, sponsors, and institutional review boards; privacy, especially regarding biospecimens and tissue banking; and the possibility of fundamental paradigm shifts.

Contributors
 Adam Braddock, Alexander Morgan Capron, Ellen Wright Clayton, I. Glenn Cohen, Susan Cox, Amy L. Davis, Hilary Eckert, Barbara J. Evans, Nir Eyal, Heidi Li Feldman, Benjamin Fombonne, Elisa A. Hurley, Ana S. Iltis, Gail H. Javitt, Greg Koski, Nicole Lockhart, Holly Fernandez Lynch, Michael McDonald, Michelle N. Meyer, Osagie K. Obasogie, Efthimios Parasidis, Govind Persad, Rosamond Rhodes, Suzanne M. Rivera, Zachary M. Schrag, Seema K. Shah, Jeffrey Skopek, Laura Stark, Patrick Taylor, Anne Townsend, Carol Weil, Brett A. Williams, Leslie E. Wolf

For a more information, including the full table of contents, check out the book on the MIT Press website

Art Caplan New Op-Ed: When Does Human Life Begin?

Art Caplan has a new Op-Ed on The Council for Secular Humanism about when human life begin.

From the piece:

“When does human life begin? For those in the “personhood” movement in the United States, there is no doubt about when that happens—it is at conception, when the sperm meets the egg. The personhood movement has gained a foothold among antiabortion activists who are looking to pass laws that define embryos as people with full rights. Personhood advocates aim to outlaw all abortions, along with in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research, and emergency contraception. Granting embryos personhood would also mean that someone who killed a pregnant woman at any stage in her pregnancy would be at risk of prosecution for a double homicide. And in those states that restrict a woman’s right to utilize a living will if she is pregnant, no living will could apply from the moment of conception..”

Read the full article.

Translating “ELSI” into Policy

by Guest Blogger Wylie Burke MD, PhD.

When the Human Genome Project began in 1990, the National Center for Human Genome Research – now the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) – created a research funding program for evaluation of the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of genomics. ELSI scholars study a wide range of issues, from the responsible conduct of genomic research, to implementation and outcomes of genetic testing programs, to intellectual property challenges.  But how should this research be evaluated? In particular, what impact should we expect for this kind of research? These questions are particularly challenging for those of us who work in the multidisciplinary Centers of Excellence in ELSI Research (CEERs) funded by the NHGRI, because these centers have been given a programmatic charge to consider policy-relevant questions and help to inform the policy-making process. A group of ELSI researchers, representing seven CEERs, have been deliberating these questions and recently published a paper with recommendations.

We noted, first of all, that policy-making occurs in many venues. Although discussions often focus on governmental policies, policy-making in other venues often influences genomic translation, including actions as diverse as Institutional Review Board (IRB) decisions about consent and return of results; guidelines promulgated by professional organizations; funding decisions of health insurers; and investment decisions of venture capital.   In addition, policy-making in one arena may influence the need for policies in another. For example, practice guidelines influence the use of genetic testing and may in turn influence how clinical data are accessed to evaluate test outcomes, or how IRBs decide what genetic results should be returned to research participants. Continue reading

Call for Submissions: Journal of Law and the Biosciences

JLB coverCall for Submissions: Journal of Law and the Biosciences

Deadline: Rolling.

The Journal of Law and the Biosciences (JLB) is actively soliciting original manuscripts, responses, essays, and book reviews devoted to the examination of issues related to the intersection of law and biosciences, including bioethics, neuroethics, genetics, reproductive technologies, stem cells, enhancement, patent law, and food and drug regulation. JLB welcomes submissions of varying length, with a theoretical, empirical, practical, or policy oriented focus.

JLB is the first fully open access peer-reviewed legal journal focused on the advances at the intersection of law and the biosciences. A co-venture between Duke University, Harvard Law School, and Stanford University, and published by Oxford University Press, this open access, online, and interdisciplinary academic journal publishes cutting-edge scholarship in this important new field. JLB is published as one volume with three issues per year with new articles posted online on an ongoing basis.

For more information about JLB, click here. To submit a manuscript, click here.