Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why Jim Carrey is Wrong About Vaccines

A new opinion piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

California has decided one large epidemic scare is enough. After the frightening outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland and sickened 147 people, Californians rejected the irrationality of anti-vaccine zealots and decided to restrict parents’ ability to exempt their children from school vaccinations.

The new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown throws out religious and philosophical reasons to exempt. Only health concerns will be permitted and those must be verified by a physician. If you simply don’t want to vaccinate your kids, you will have to home school.

The new law is all to the good. No major religions have heartburn over vaccination. Most see it as an obligation in order to help the community. And philosophical exemptions were nothing but an open door for those who are ill-informed, addicted to misinformation on the internet or just plain selfish. […]

Read the full article here.

The ACA Survives — But With A Note Of Caution For The Future?

Academic Fellow Rachel Sachs has a new piece up at the Health Affairs Blog discussing the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell. From the piece: 

Chief Justice Roberts has once again saved a core provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In King v Burwell, a majority of six Justices upheld the validity of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rule interpreting the text of the ACA to permit tax credits to be distributed through both state and federal insurance exchanges. As a result, the millions of Americans receiving subsidies through federally established exchanges in the states that have not chosen to establish their own exchanges will continue to receive them.

Much of the briefing and argument in King involved the legal principle known as Chevron deference, in which courts generally defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of statutes if the statutory language is ambiguous. In this case, the government first argued that the statutory language clearly permitted tax credits to be made available on federally established exchanges. But even if the statute was ambiguous, it contended, Chevron counseled deference to the IRS’ reasonable interpretation of the statute.

Read the full piece on the Health Affairs Blog!

Happy about the Supreme Court’s ACA decision? Thank a law professor

By Rachel Sachs

[Originally published on The Conversation].

The core of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has now survived its second trip to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in King v Burwell, holding that the federal government may provide subsidies for citizens to purchase health insurance on exchanges that were established by the federal government, rather than by their own state.

A ruling for the challengers (the “King” in King v Burwell) would not only have stopped the flow of subsidies to 6.4 million people currently receiving them, but it would also have disrupted the functioning of the individual insurance markets in the 34 states that have not established their own exchanges. Continue reading

Health Law Year in P/Review: Until Next Year

This new post by Holly F. Lynch, I. Glenn Cohen, and Gregory Curfman appears on the Health Affairs Blog as the final entry in a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

It’s been our great pleasure to collaborate with the Health Affairs Blog on this series stemming from theThird Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium at Harvard Law School. This annual event takes a look back over the prior year and previews the year to come with regard to hot topics in health law.

After the symposium, we asked our speakers to keep the conversation going online by expanding on their topics from different angles or by honing in on particularly intriguing features. These pieces were published on the Health Affairs Blog through the spring and into summer.

We heard more from Kevin Outterson on how to promote innovation in the development of new antibiotics, from Rachel Sachs on whether the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to regulate laboratory-developed tests will really stifle innovation, and from Claire Laporte on the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions on bio-IP.

George Annas weighed in on the Ebola outbreak, which has already almost faded from public consciousness but offers important public health lessons, while Wendy Parmet and Andrew Sussman tackled important developments in tobacco control. […]

Read the full post here.

The Impact of Broccoli II and Tomato II on European patents in conventional breeding, GMO’s and Synthetic Biology: A grand finale of a juicy patents tale?

I am pleased to announce our recent paper entitled “The Impact of Broccoli II & Tomato II on European patents in conventional breeding, GMO’s and Synthetic Biology: The grand finale of a juicy patents tale?”, which is available on SSRN, and forthcoming in Biotechnology Law Report, Vol. 34, Number 3 (June 2015), pp. 1-18.

Our analysis deals with a seminal judgment on the controversial and sometimes even emotionally debated European “Broccoli” and “Tomato” patents, which has captivated the European patent and plant science communities for many years: On March 25, 2015, the EBA of the European Patent Office (EBA) finally issued its much awaited decisions on the consolidated referrals G2/12 (“Tomato II”) and G2/13 (“Broccoli II”), clarifying the exclusion from patentability of essentially biological processes, such as conventional crossing and selection, and in particular its impact on the patentability of claims for products resulting from such processes. The so-called “Tomato II” case concerned an invention entitled “method for breeding tomatoes having reduced water content and product of the method,” whereas the so-called “Broccoli II” case involved an invention of a “method for selective increase of the anticarcinogenic glucosinolates in brassica species”. Continue reading

How law professors helped the Supreme Court understand the Affordable Care Act

By Rachel Sachs

[Originally published on The Conversation].

In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v Burwell, a case that could broadly impact the functioning of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The central question in King v Burwell is whether the federal government may provide subsidies for citizens to purchase health insurance on exchanges that were established by the federal government, rather than by their own state. If the court rules for the government, these subsidies will remain in place. If the court rules against the government, subsidies may no longer be provided to people living in states that have not established their own exchanges.

A decision is expected by the end of June, and a ruling against the government could harm not only the 6.4 million people receiving these subsidies, but also the individual insurance markets in the 34 states that have not established their own exchanges. These markets would likely descend into an actuarial “death spiral,” in which healthier people exit the market in cycles, leaving sicker patients to pay ever-higher premiums. Continue reading

Marriage Equality, Health, and Life Extension

Health care analysts have long studied the effects of relationships on health, e.g., married men live longer than unmarried.   Professor Debra Umberson, a sociologist at the University of Texas Sociology Department has researched deeply into these issues.  She opened my eyes recently with insights as to how denial of marriage equality is a public health hazard because of the beneficial effects of marriage on health and life extension.

Here is a link to her Huff Post essay on this topic and a word version of the same:

http://sites.la.utexas.edu/mharp/2015/06/09/one-benefit-to-same-sex-marriage-that-nobody-is-talking-about/

 In Sickness As In Health

As the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether the Constitution requires recognition of same-sex marriage, many have speculated about the real-world consequences of marriage equality.  On at least one front the answer is clear.  Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples will improve the nation’s health. Continue reading

FDA’s Non-Response Response to My New York Times Op-Ed on Gay Blood Ban

On May 21, along with my frequent co-author Eli Adashi, I published an op-ed in the New York Times raising some questions about FDA’s proposed guidance recommending a ban on taking the blood on any man who has had sex with another man in the past year, or in other words imposing a one year celibacy requirement on gay men if they want to donate blood. This built on our critique last July in JAMA, wherein we argued that FDA’s then-lifetime ban on gay men and MSM donating blood was out of step with science and the practice of our peer countries, as well as potentially unconstitutional.

Thanks to our work, and a concerted effort by public health, medical, and gay rights groups, FDA has finally moved off of that prior policy and recognized that it was unjustified, and discriminatory.

Just to put this in context It took more than 30 years to convince FDA that it was problematic to ban blood donation for a lifetime any man who ever had sex with another man, even if both have repeatedly tested negative for HIV, while it imposed only a one year ban on people who had sex with individuals known to be HIV positive or a sex worker. FDA is appropriately a conservative agency, but on this issue of the lifetime ban its willingness to listen and reconsider has gone beyond conservatism to the point of lunacy. [By the way to be clear, I *love* FDA. I represented them while at the DOJ and have a new book coming out about FDA in the fall. You can think highly of an agency but think they have a bad track record on an issue. This is critique not hater-aide].

Well with that background, one should be not so quick to assume that a move to a one year ban — a de facto lifetime ban for any gay man who is sexually active, even one who is monogamously married with children — is the best policy. To put it bluntly, refusing to change a lifetime ban for such a long period makes me skeptical we should accept a “just trust us” line on their new restrictive policy.

The question we raised in our op-ed was whether FDA had adequately justified retaining a one year ban in light of the evidence from places like South Africa (with a much shorter time period ban), Italy (which does individualized risk assessment instead of stigmatizing all gay men as high risk for disease), etc.

Well FDA responded…sort of … through a NY TImes Letter To the Editor.

Here is what FDA said with my analysis in bold:

Continue reading

Who needs to be involved in creating community health?

A slew of organizations, including most notably the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are talking about creating a “culture of health” as a new way forward in US health policy. The underlying thinking assumes that legislative fixes, including the Affordable Care Act, will continue to be vehemently fought if attitudes towards health do not in some ways fundamentally change. Inherent in the idea of building a culture is incorporating unconventional actors and voices into discussions about how to improve outcomes at a local level. This has led public health strategists to ask new questions about who to involve in community health building efforts with an eye towards employers, small businesses, social service organizations and community institutions.

With this in mind, I recently spoke with Peter Doliber, Executive Director of the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCA about how he sees the Ys fitting into a plan to create health. His background is in public health and hospital administration, having worked in a range of communities to develop programs that increase access to health care, improve health outcomes and create a return on investment. Here’s an abbreviated version of our conversation.

Continue reading

Fundraising and the Delayed Kidney Transplantation: A Loophole in the Ban against Commercialization?

In April, a kidney donation from an unrelated living donor was put on hold in South Portland, Maine. The reason was unusual: the generosity of the community.  In response to an online fundraising for the donor, 768 people contributed over $49,000—well beyond what can reasonably be called “compensation.” The hospital thus had to ask the question: Is the donation procedure in conflict with the law now that the donor stands to profit from it? After initial media coverage, there was no further news about this case. On Monday, however, it was announced on the fundraising page that the transplant is back on track and due to happen in two weeks. Does that mean that we now have a loophole in the ban against commercialization of organs?

The case is unprecedented. There are and have been other online fundraisers to compensate donors. But this is the first time that the unpredictable powers of the internet kicked in (remember the guy who raised $55,000 to make a potato salad?). The law prohibits any monetary payments to organ donors. The situation poses two questions: What should be done in this particular case, and how should fundraising for organ donors be regulated going forward?

It appears that the first question was somehow resolved even though we don’t know how: Did the hospital decide it was not a problem after all, or did the donor agree with the hospital’s reported initial suggestion of donating the “excess” money to some other organization? In either case, what follows remains problematic.

Continue reading

The Ethics of Punking the Diet-Research Media Complex (and Millions of Readers)

ScaleA remarkable new “sting” of the “diet research-media complex” was just revealed. It tells us little we didn’t already know and has potentially caused a fair amount of damage, spread across millions of people. It does, however, offer an opportunity to explore the importance of prospective group review of non-consensual human subjects research—and the limits of IRBs applying the Common Rule in serving that function in contexts like this.

Journalist John Bohannon, two German reporters, a doctor and a statistician recruited 16 German subjects through Facebook into a three-week randomized controlled trial of diet and weight loss. One-third were told to follow a low-carb diet, one-third were told to cut carbs but add 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (about 230 calories) per day, and one-third served as control subjects and were told to make no changes to their current diet. They were all given questionnaires and blood tests in advance to ensure they didn’t have diabetes, eating disorders, or other conditions that would make the study dangerous for them, and these tests were repeated after the study. They were each paid 150 Euros (~$163) for their trouble.

But it turns out that Bohannon, the good doctor (who had written a book about dietary pseudoscience), and their colleagues were not at all interested in studying diet. Instead, they wanted to show how easy it is for bad science to be published and reported by the media. The design of the diet trial was deliberately poor. It involved only a handful of subjects, had a poor balance of age and of men and women, and so on. But, through the magic of p-hacking, they managed several statistically significant results: eating chocolate accelerates weight loss and leads to healthier cholesterol levels and increased well-being. Continue reading

Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen: New Blood-Donor Policy, Same Gay Stigma

Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen has co-authored a new Op-Ed in the New York Times:

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration released highly anticipated draft recommendations that would allow gay men to donate blood after one year of celibacy. While an improvement from the current, highly criticized lifetime ban, the new policy, which was announced in December, still caters to fear and stigma rather than science. It should be reconsidered. […]

Read the full article here.

Two Cheers for Corporate Experimentation

Rubin's vase2I have a new law review article out, Two Cheers for Corporate Experimentation: The A/B Illusion and the Virtues of Data-Driven Innovation, arising out of last year’s terrific Silicon Flatirons annual tech/privacy conference at Colorado Law, the theme of which was “When Companies Study Their Customers.”

This article builds on, but goes well beyond, my prior work on the Facebook experiment in Wired (mostly a wonky regulatory explainer of the Common Rule and OHRP engagement guidance as applied to the Facebook-Cornell experiment, albeit with hints of things to come in later work) and Nature (a brief mostly-defense of the ethics of the experiment co-authored with 5 ethicists and signed by an additional 28, which was necessarily limited in breadth and depth by both space constraints and the need to achieve overlapping consensus).

Although I once again turn to the Facebook experiment as a case study (and also to new discussions of the OkCupid matching algorithm experiment and of 401(k) experiments), the new article aims at answering a much broader question than whether any particular experiment was legal or ethical. Continue reading

Check out the latest news from the Petrie-Flom Center!

Check out the May 15th edition of the Petrie-Flom Center’s biweekly e-newsletter for the latest on events, affiliate news and scholarship, and job and fellowship opportunities in health law policy and bioethics.

Featured in this edition:

brain_pain_slide_270_174_85REGISTER NOW!
Visible Solutions: How Neuroimaging Helps Law Re-envision Pain

June 30, 2015, 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein West A
Harvard Law School,
1585 Massachusetts Ave.,
Cambridge, MA [Map]

Can brain imaging be a “pain-o-meter” that tells courts when a person is in pain?  Can fMRI help us discern whether intractable chronic pain is “all in your head” or all in the brain – or will it require us to reconsider that distinction? Leading neuroscientists, legal scholars, and bioethicists will debate standards and limits on how the law can use brain science to get smarter about a subject that touches everyone.

Agenda

The full agenda will be announced in the coming weeks. Check back here for news!

Registration

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 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. Cosponsored by the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, and with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

 For more on news and events at Petrie-Flom, see the full newsletter.

The ACA, The ADA, And Wellness Program Incentives

This new post by Kristen Madison appears on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

Wellness programs have been enthusiastically embraced by employers seeking to promote health and hoping to control costs. On April 20, 2015, program proponents received long awaited news: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule clarifying how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would apply to wellness programs. Many large employers likely breathed a sigh of relief upon reading the rule, but the rule is not final and may reignite a longstanding debate over the appropriate use of wellness incentives.

Wellness programs have become common in the workplace. A 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that among large employers offering health benefits, just over half offered an opportunity to complete a health risk assessment (HRA), a questionnaire that is often a gateway for the provision of health risk information and other wellness program components (Exhibit 12.8 in the Kaiser survey). A similar fraction offered biometric screenings (Exhibit 12.1), such as tests for cholesterol or blood pressure, or measurement of body mass index. Some screening programs test for cotinine, which is associated with nicotine exposure.

Some wellness programs offer financial incentives such as premium adjustments or gift cards. The 2014 survey found that more than half of large employers using HRAs provide incentives for their completion, and more than a third of these incentives equaled or exceeded $500 (Exhibit 12.10). A federally commissioned report prepared by RAND suggests that incentives are effective in increasing HRA completion. […]

Read the full article here.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: A Potential Solution to the Shortage of Solid Organs for Transplantation

A new opinion piece by contributor Art Caplan along with Stephen Wall and Carolyn Plunkett, in JAMA:

In the United States, the majority of deaths occur unexpectedly, outside hospitals or in emergency departments. Rarely do these deaths provide opportunities for organ donation. In Europe, unexpected deaths provide substantial numbers of transplantable organs through uncontrolled donation after circulatory determination of death (UDCDD). UDCDD considers decedents candidates for donation even when death is unexpected, regardless of location, as long as preservation begins after all life-sustaining efforts have been exhausted.

More than 124 000 patients are wait-listed for organs in the United States, a number that increases annually despite attrition from 10 500 who die or become too sick for transplantation.1 United States policy currently promotes organ recovery from 3 sources; neurologic deaths, controlled circulatory deaths, and live donors for kidneys and partial livers.

However, these approaches are incapable of meeting increasing US demand for transplants. During controlled donation after circulatory determination of death (CDCDD), the time from cessation of life support to circulatory arrest often exceeds 60 minutes. Prolonged hypotension leads to irreparable organ damage, thus limiting the effect of CDCDD on organ supply. Live donation primarily affects kidney supply; it is unlikely that altruistic donation will ever meet demand. Although many changes in public policy regarding cadaveric donation are debated (markets and presumed consent), none is likely to become law or make substantial differences in organ supply. […]

Read the full article here.

Exploring The Significant State-To-State Variation In Marketplace Enrollment

This new post by the Petrie-Flom Center’s Academic Fellow Matthew J. B. Lawrence appears on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

What role did geography, advertising, community, Navigators, and the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) play in consumers’ decisions whether to purchase health insurance in the individual marketplaces? The percentage of potential exchange marketplace enrollees who actually made use of the marketplace to purchase insurance varied widely from state to state for 2014 and 2015.

As of February 22, 2015, for example, there were eight states with enrollment at 50 percent or greater and eight states with enrollment at 25 percent or lower. (Per the Kaiser Family Foundation, the top eight were Vermont, Florida, Maine, DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. The bottom eight were Colorado, Ohio, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa).

It would be an interesting and challenging task to explain this variation empirically. Generating reliable statistical inferences from inter-state comparisons is notoriously difficult, and the variables at play here range from the easily measured (percent of population eligible for subsidies, navigator grant amounts, number of participating insurers, premiums) to the not-so-easily measured (enthusiasm for Obamacare, efficacy of state or federal outreach efforts, geography, education, availability and usefulness of charity care and emergency Medicaid, functionality of state exchange website, population health, availability of health services). […]

Read the full post here.

Athlete concussion under-reporting and pressure from stakeholders

By: Christine Baugh

As concussions are increasingly seen as a public health problem, under-reporting and under-diagnosis of concussion is recognized as one barrier to improving the safety of sports participation. A number of studies have previously characterized the extent of under-reporting of concussions among athletes, particularly at the collegiate level. Furthermore, existing research has examined the applicability of theories of behavior change to concussion reporting and created relevant frameworks for examination. Although a growing body of evidence suggests that reporting (or not reporting) a concussion is a decision actively made by the athlete weighing relevant factors, the extent to which interpersonal, intrapersonal, environmental, or policy factors influence athletes’ decisions about whether or not to report a concussion is not fully understood.

A recent study, on which I am a co-author, titled “Concussion under-reporting and pressure from coaches, teammates, fans, and parents,” published in Social Science and Medicine aimed to understand one possible contributory factor to athlete under-report of concussion: pressure on athletes from relevant stakeholders. (Abstract available here.) The survey-based study queried a sample of 328 athletes from 19 contact or collision sports teams (notably excluding football and hockey teams) at 4 colleges in the northeast region of the United States. Among other things, the study asked athletes whether they experienced pressure to return to play after a head impact, specifically asking about pressure from coaches, teammates, parents, and fans. Continue reading

No Jab, No Pay: Australia’s Misguided Approach to Vaccine Refusal

Australia’s recently announced “no jab, no pay” policy offers a potent reminder of the all-too-common tendency to penalize vulnerable populations for public health problems. Like many other countries, Australia has experienced a worrisome increase in the number of families deciding not to vaccinate their children.  In response, the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced a program of carrots and sticks. The carrots include increased payments to physicians to incentivize them to urge families to vaccinate their children. The sticks include tightening the religious exemption (Australia does not provide an exemption for personal belief) and the “no jab, no policy” which will deny families whose children aren’t vaccinated certain income-based childcare and family tax benefits.

Governments have long used the denial of public benefits – traditionally public education – to push parents to vaccinate their children.  Studies have shown that laws conditioning attendance in schools and daycares on vaccination can increase vaccination rates, although the particular formulation of the law (especially how difficult it is to receive an exemption) matters.

To be sure, laws that require children to be vaccinated to attend schools or daycare impose heavier burdens on poor families who are more apt to need daycare and are less able to homeschool their children. Still, these laws reach broadly, especially when they apply to private schools. Homeschooling remains relatively rare. Significantly, school-based vaccine laws do not single out low-income families. Continue reading

Harvard U Effective Altruism presents: Derek Parfit discusses altruistic giving

PArfitFacebook RSVP

When: Tuesday, April 21, 6:00pm Where: Harvard campus, Science Center E

Oxford and Harvard philosopher Derek Parfit is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the most important moral philosopher of the 20th and early 21st centuries”.  The New Yorker called his books “the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century.”  He will be discussing personal identity, future generations, ethics  and Effective Altruism in a fireside chat moderated by ethicist Nir Eyal, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This event is co-sponsored by Harvard University Effective Altruism (HUEA) and Harvard College Effective Altruism (HCEA), and is open to the public.