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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Sex Selection or Gender Selection? Queering the Ratio Question

I am at a fantastic event at Yale I co-organized on Intersections in Reproduction: Perspectives on Abortion, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, and Judicial Review with some amazing scholars present and excellent papers being presented. Like many people who have thought about sex selection, I would have imagined I have thought through most of the issues from most perspectives. What I love about these gatherings is that they always prove me wrong.

Today two very interesting questions were raised about a common argument raised about sex selection, the risk that it will result in unbalanced sex ratios. Our discussion, I would say, “queered” the typical claim in two interesting ways, and I am curious what others think (to be clear these were my thoughts on questions raised, not putting words in their mouths).

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CONFERENCE – CLASHING RIGHTS & REPRODUCTIVE AUTONOMY

Join us at Northeastern University School of Law at 1 p.m. on April 25, 2014 as leading academics and practitioners discuss the tensions between free speech and reproductive rights.

For more information, see http://www.northeastern.edu/law/academics/institutes/health-law/events/clashing-rights/

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.”

Is Finding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Worth 52,192 years of children’s lives?

[Note: This post is meant to be provocative and press a public policy question in the most thought-provoking way possible. Losing a loved one is among the most heart-wrenching experiences in a life time and my heart goes out to all those with loved ones on the flight waiting for answers. But one of the major points of this post is to highlight our tendency to spend more on identified lives not statistical ones for just these kinds of reasons and ask if it is justified.]

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is likely run to “Hundreds of Millions of Dollars” according to the most recent estimate from ABC News. This is based on extrapolation of the difficulties involved and the experience of searching for Air France 447 which cost 50 million USD. Let’s take a conservative estimate of 100 million USD to find the plane, probably on the low end. Let us put aside the possibility that even with that expenditure the plane will never be found, again an assumption that counts against the argument I will be making. This is 100 million dollars spent, roughly speaking, on “helping.” It is very unlikely that there are any survivors, so I don’t think this can reasonably be thought of as “life-saving” (I will assume it is not, but if it were  that wouldn’t make that much of a difference in the argument I will offer though it will require confronting the question of Should the Numbers Count for life saving?).

Instead the money is being spent (1) to satisfy the somewhat diffuse curiosity/grief of those who have watched this in the media, (2) to give answers to the very deep need for closure of the loved ones of those flying on these planes, and (3) to learn about what went wrong and potentially determine whether there is a systemic problem with these planes that might affect other planes.

All of those are worthy goals. But are they worth 100 million USD? In the category of “helping” or “life-saving” what else could we do with the money? Let me draw on one estimate mentioned by Ezra Klein in the WaPo and Don Taylor at the Incidental Economist from a paper by Tammy Tengs “Five Hundred Life Saving Interventions and Their Cost Effectiveness

I chose the cheapest intervention, influenza vaccines for children age 5+ which is estimated to cost $1,300/life year saved in 1993 dollars. I then updated that to 2013 dollars with a conversion calculator to generate a cost of 1915.89 USD per life year saved (it may also be that this intervention is now cheaper than it was at the time of Teng’s paper). I then divided 100 million dollars by that number to get my 52,192 life years saved for children estimate. That is fairly back of the envelope and there are lots of tweaks you would do to get a more exact figure, but it is close enough to make the point: Why are we spending so much on Malaysia Airlines search when we could be saving so many lives?

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TOMORROW: panel discussion, Current Legal Issues in HIV/AIDS Work

Current Legal Issues in HIV/AIDS Work

Thursday, March 27, 2014, 12:00pm

Wasserstein Hall 1019, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

More than 30 years have passed since AIDS first appeared in the United States. Today the CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, and each year 50,000 Americans are newly diagnosed. Despite great strides in education, awareness, prevention, and treatment, people affected by HIV/AIDS still face significant discrimination, including unequal treatment under the law. This panel will explore some of the legal barriers faced by people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, including FDA’s ban on men who have sex with men donating blood and laws criminalizing HIV transmission. Panelists include:

  • Felix Lopez, Director of the Legal Department, GMHC
  • Jason Cianciotto, Director of the Public Policy Department, GMHC
  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
  • Moderator: Aziza Ahmed, Visiting Scholar, Petrie-Flom Center; Associate Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

This event is cosponsored by Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). Founded in New York in 1981, GMHC is one of the world’s first and leading providers of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy. 

NEJM Editorial on Murthy for Surgeon General (with some further editorial comments by me)

Our friends at the New England Journal of Medicine have a great editorial chastising Congress and the White House for potentially bowing to the NRA’s pressure not to confirm Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General. The whole thing is worth a read but here are a couple of key paragraphs.

This is the first time that the NRA has flexed its political muscle over the appointment of a surgeon general. The NRA has taken this action even though the surgeon general has no authority over firearm regulation and even though Murthy made it clear in his testimony before the Senate HELP Committee that if he is confirmed, his principal focus will be on the important national problem of obesity prevention, not firearm policy. Still, 10 Senate Democrats are apparently prepared to vote against Murthy’s confirmation because of his personal views on firearms — a demonstration of just how much political power our legislators have ceded to the NRA.

The critical question is this: Should a special-interest organization like the NRA have veto power over the appointment of the nation’s top doctor? The very idea is unacceptable.

Despite the continuing American tragedy of mass shootings — Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech — the NRA has redoubled its efforts to prevent enactment of stricter firearm regulations. Lawmakers who run afoul of the NRA face political retribution. By obstructing the President’s nomination of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, the NRA is taking its single-issue political blackmail to a new level. With the record of past surgeons general as their guide, senators should do what is right for the health of our country by confronting the NRA and voting their own conscience. Dr. Murthy is an accomplished physician, policymaker, leader, and entrepreneur. He deserves the President’s continued backing and should be confirmed.

I think this is very well said and largely sympathetic. The one point on which I will slightly veer off course (disagree with is too strong) from NEJM has to do with the connection between gun safety and health. I do think it is legitimate to view gun safety and firearm deaths as a HEALTH issue, even if not particularly a HEALTH CARE issue. It is a staple part of public health regulatory studies, along with drugs, alcohol, obesity, and tobacco. While we have the CDC as a kind of public health federal executive power, as its name suggests communicable and non-communicable disease has always been its focus. I think it would be great if we understand the “top doc” of the United States’ role as being about HEALTH and not just HEALTH CARE, so I would not (and to be clear I don’t think NEJM has) draw too strong a line between these two in an attempt to salvage this nomination. Doctors (not exclusively of other actors in the system, of course) should view themselves as agents of HEALTH not just HEALTH CARE, and I would hate for Murthy or other doctors’ efforts in the broader sphere to be dismissed as “frolicks” or “extracurricular.”

 

An interview with I. Glenn Cohen on law and bioscience

With the first issue of Journal of Law and Biosciences now available, the Oxford University Press blog has published an interview with I. Glenn Cohen discussing the journal’s focus and format. From the blog:

There are huge changes taking place in the world of biosciences, and whether it’s new discoveries in stem cell research, new reproductive technologies, or genetics being used to make predictions about health and behavior, there are legal ramifications for everything. Journal of Law and the Biosciences is a new journal published by Oxford University Press in association Duke University, Harvard University Law School, and Stanford University, focused on the legal implications of the scientific revolutions in the biosciences. We sat down with one of the Editors in Chief, I. Glenn Cohen, to discuss the rapidly changing field, emerging legal issues, and the new peer-reviewed and open access journal.

Read the full interview.

3/27: panel discussion on Current Legal Issues in HIV/AIDS Work

Current Legal Issues in HIV/AIDS Work

Thursday, March 27, 2014, 12:00pm

Wasserstein Hall 1019, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

More than 30 years have passed since AIDS first appeared in the United States. Today the CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, and each year 50,000 Americans are newly diagnosed. Despite great strides in education, awareness, prevention, and treatment, people affected by HIV/AIDS still face significant discrimination, including unequal treatment under the law. This panel will explore some of the legal barriers faced by people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, including FDA’s ban on men who have sex with men donating blood and laws criminalizing HIV transmission. Panelists include:

  • Felix Lopez, Director of the Legal Department, GMHC
  • Jason Cianciotto, Director of the Public Policy Department, GMHC
  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
  • Moderator: Aziza Ahmed, Visiting Scholar, Petrie-Flom Center; Associate Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

This event is cosponsored by Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). Founded in New York in 1981, GMHC is one of the world’s first and leading providers of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy. 

Twitter Round Up

This week’s twitter round up features a variety of topics from our contributors, from discussions about the troubles of patient matching to generic drug labeling and the readmission penalty.

Adrian Gropper shared a link to the most recent entry of his The Health Care Blog entitled “What You Need To Know About Patient Matching and Your Privacy and What You Can Do About It” in which he compares patient matching to “NSA surveillance.”

Amitabh Chandra tweeted that “the current readmission penalty, however well-intentioned, sure looks like a tax on minority and indigent serving hospitals.”

Frank Pasquale shared an article about the myths of high-protein diets and the potential consequences, including the quote that there is a “strong association between longevity and a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet.”

I. Glenn Cohen shared a link to an article about “Intersextion: Germany Allows Patient to Choose ‘No Sex’ on Birth Certificate” and poses the question of whether or not the United States should follow Germany’s example in making such an allowance.

Kate Greenwood retweeted Alexander Gaffney including a link to a discussion of the new arguments being made about the generic drug labeling rule: “Opponents, Proponents of Generic Drug Labeling Rule Unleash New Argument and Supporters.”

TOMORROW: Evaluating the Revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Evaluating the Revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 12:00pm

Wasserstein Hall 3018, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

The DSM is the reference used by clinicians, researchers, and insurers to diagnose and classify mental disorders, with the intent to provide specific, objective criteria by which to assess symptoms and determine whether to pay for treatment.  The American Psychiatric Association released the manual’s fifth edition in May 2013, nearly twenty years after the fourth edition, to substantial public and professional criticism.  Please join us for a discussion of the new revisions and their implications for patients, medical practice, research, and the law.

Panelists:

  • Steven E. Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
  • Anne Becker, Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Nita Farahany, Professor of Law, Professor of Genome Sciences & Policy, and Professor of Philosophy at Duke University
  • Moderator: I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

This event is supported by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund.

Inaugural Issue of the new Journal of Law and the Biosciences Now Online (Free Access)

I am very pleased to announce the the first-ever issue of The Journal of Law and the Biosciences is now online. I serve as one of three Editors In Chief (along with Nita Farahany and Hank Greely). The journal is a co-production of Harvard, Duke, and Stanford Law schools and Oxford University Press and is the first peer-reviewed journal of its kind.

Here is the table of contents for the first issue:

Edward S. Dove, Bartha M. Knoppers, and Ma’n H. Zawati, Towards an ethics safe harbor for global biomedical research, J Law Biosci (March 2014) 1 (1): 3-51 doi:10.1093/jlb/lst002

Rebecca Dresser, Public preferences and the challenge to genetic research policy, J Law Biosci (March 2014) 1 (1): 52-67 doi:10.1093/jlb/lst001

Hannah Maslen, Thomas Douglas, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Neil Levy, and Julian Savulescu, The regulation of cognitive enhancement devices: extending the medical model, J Law Biosci (March 2014) 1 (1): 68-93 doi:10.1093/jlb/lst003

Timothy Caulfield, Sarah Burningham, Yann Joly, Zubin Master, Mahsa Shabani, Pascal Borry, Allan Becker, Michael Burgess, Kathryn Calder, Christine Critchley, Kelly Edwards, Stephanie M. Fullerton, Herbert Gottweis, Robyn Hyde-Lay, Judy Illes, Rosario Isasi, Kazuto Kato, Jane Kaye, Bartha Knoppers, John Lynch, Amy McGuire, Eric Meslin, Dianne Nicol, Kieran O’Doherty, Ubaka Ogbogu, Margaret Otlowski, Daryl Pullman, Nola Ries, Chris Scott, Malcolm Sears, Helen Wallace, and Ma’n H. Zawati, A review of the key issues associated with the commercialization of biobanks, J Law Biosci (March 2014) 1 (1): 94-110 doi:10.1093/jlb/lst004

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3/11: Evaluating the Revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Evaluating the Revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 12:00pm

Wasserstein Hall 3018, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

The DSM is the reference used by clinicians, researchers, and insurers to diagnose and classify mental disorders, with the intent to provide specific, objective criteria by which to assess symptoms and determine whether to pay for treatment.  The American Psychiatric Association released the manual’s fifth edition in May 2013, nearly twenty years after the fourth edition, to substantial public and professional criticism.  Please join us for a discussion of the new revisions and their implications for patients, medical practice, research, and the law.

Panelists:

  • Steven E. Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
  • Anne Becker, Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Nita Farahany, Professor of Law, Professor of Genome Sciences & Policy, and Professor of Philosophy at Duke University
  • Moderator: I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

This event is supported by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund.

Peter Orszag on Medical Malpractice Reform that Works

Peter Orszag has a nice piece on the future of medical malpractice reform. In it he gives a big shout-out to former Petrie-Flom fellow (now Cornell Law Prof) Mike Frakes and discusses papers Mike worked on while at the Center. Hopefully policymakers are listening. From Orszag’s piece:

Capping damages for medical malpractice can do little to solve this problem, but changing the standard against which doctors are evaluated would. In particular, doctors should have a safe harbor from malpractice suits if they follow evidence-based protocols published by a professional medical association. The Center for American Progress and others have proposed exactly this type of approach, and have also provided details about how it could work.

Professor Michael Frakes of Cornell Law School has done pathbreaking research on the benefits of moving away from customary-practice rules. In a new analysis, Frakes and Anupam Jena, a professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School, examine how malpractice laws affect mortality rates, avoidable hospitalizations, adverse events to mothers during childbirth and other measures of health-care quality. They then assess two types of reforms: changes to damages caps and changes to the local customary-practice standard.

FDA, Mitochondrial Manipulation, Three Parent Children, and the NY Times

In yesterday’s NY Times Op-Ed page Marcy Darnovsky writes about FDA’s consideration of mitochondrial manipulation therapies later this week. As she describes it:

The F.D.A. calls them mitochondrial manipulation technologies. The procedures involve removing the nuclear material either from the egg or embryo of a woman with inheritable mitochondrial disease and inserting it into a healthy egg or embryo of a donor whose own nuclear material has been discarded. Any offspring would carry genetic material from three people — the nuclear DNA of the mother and father, and the mitochondrial DNA of the donor. 

As she writes in her opinion:

Some media accounts about these techniques have misleadingly referred to “saving lives,” as if they were aimed at people who are sick and suffering. Others have failed to note how very few women would be candidates for even considering them. And they could turn to safer and simpler alternatives. An affected woman could adopt or use in vitro fertilization with another woman’s eggs. Of course, the resulting child would not be genetically related to her, but neither would the child be put at grave risk by an extreme procedure.

The F.D.A. advisory panel says that its meeting will consider only scientific aspects of mitochondrial manipulation and that any “ethical and social policy issues” are outside its scope. But those are precisely the issues that we must address. Simply being able to do something doesn’t mean we should do it.

That conclusion is a bit pat, though I don’t fault her too much given how tight op-ed word limits are, and maybe a tad reactionary. I do think she raises an interesting point about how this is not saving lives, though I think so for different reasons.

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Public Lecture at Radcliffe Institute “The Ethicist’s and The Lawyer’s New Clothes: The Law and the Ethics of Smart Clothes” now Available on Youtube

As part of a public lecture series at the Radcliffe Institute on “Smart Clothes” I delivered a public lecture entitled “The Ethicist’s and the Lawyer’s New Clothes: The Law and Ethics of Smart Clothes.” The lecture is now available for viewing on youtube. As the promotional materials described the lecture: “From enhanced exosuits for members of the armed services to clothing that spies on you, I. Glenn Cohen focuses on legal and ethical issues pertaining to the future of smart clothes.” While CNN coverage of the lecture focused on the surveillance aspects of these clothes, I think the discussion of exosuits and enhancements may be more interesting to BOH readers.

International Aid, Public Health, and Corruption

My wonderful HLS colleague Matthew Stephenson has just launched the Global Anticorruption Blog (GAB). As it happens, his first two posts may be of interest to BOH readers, especially those  may be of interest to readers interested in international aid for public health projects, of the sort supported by the Gates Foundation.  The first post argues that the extent of corruption in these projects is much larger than the Gates Foundation and others acknowledge.  The second post contends that one reason for lowballing of corruption estimates is political: these projects depend substantially on public funding, and political support for health aid may be undercut by candid assessments of the extent of the corruption and fraud problems. Both the posts and the blog are well worth a read.

DC Circuit Upholds FDA Authority Over Stem Cells

Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit upheld the FDA’s authority to regulate stem cells (for a good news report see here). The company in question, Regenerative Sciences, had received a warning letter from FDA, which the company challenged claiming that its use of stem cells as therapy was not prohibited by existing federal law and that the FDA lacked authority to regulate it. They lost before the district court and appealed to the D.C. Circuit.

In a unanimous decision (by judge Griffith for himself, Judge Srinivasan and Edwards) the D.C. Circuit affirmed this decision. Here are some key passages: Continue reading

TOMORROW: Second Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

Please join us for our second annual Health Law Year in P/Review event, co-sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the New England Journal of Medicine. The conference will be held in Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 31, 2014, from 8:30am to 5:00pm.

This year we will welcome experts discussing major developments over the past year and what to watch out for in areas including the Affordable Care Act, medical malpractice, FDA regulatory policy, abortion, contraception, intellectual property in the life sciences industry, public health policy, and human subjects research.

The full agenda is available on our website. Speakers are:  Continue reading