Ebola… again: What have we learned?

By Alicia Ely Yamin

As Susan Sontag eloquently noted decades ago, illness conjures metaphors that reveal a great deal about how we think about, and, in turn, address them. None more so than the lethal Ebola, which monstrously disfigures bodies before killing the infected person and spreading rapidly through the routines of everyday life.

In the West, Ebola evokes images of illness as a deadly foreign invasion, while in the West African pandemic we know that first those who were afflicted—and later those who survived—were stigmatized as possessing demons.

The growing outbreak in the DRC has produced calls for greater physical and financial involvement from the US government by a number of health law scholars, citing the potential for exponential spread if it reaches highly populated areas, and underscoring it as a global health security issue.  Thus far, WHO’s Director General has not declared it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC), which triggers consideration of both trade and travel restrictions, as well as international assistance and under the International Health Regulations. Read More

A doctor in Mtimbwani, Tanzania helps a woman and child.

Two Reasons Why Wealthy Nations Ought to Address Medical Brain Drain

African governments spend millions of dollars every year training physicians who will leave their home countries to live and work in wealthier nations. The result is that for countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, more of their native physicians are now in the United States and Europe than at home. This massive movement of physician has likely contributed to health crises in many African nations, where citizens die of easily curable diseases each year.

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The Conduct of Clinical Trials of Treatments during Public Health Emergencies: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

The Conduct of Clinical Trials of Treatments during Public Health Emergencies: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium
February 9, 2018, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

In the past several years, the United States has struggled to respond to viral outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika.  There is now an awareness of the need to rapidly develop vaccines and treatments for epidemics that can quickly spread from country to country. But questions remain as how to best conduct clinical trials and development of vaccines in the context of an epidemic or outbreak.

Join two health policy experts in examining the appropriate conduct of clinical trials during public health emergencies.

Panelists

  • Susan Ellenberg, Professor Of Biostatistics, Biostatistics And Epidemiology, the Hospital of the University Of Pennsylvania and Director, Biostatistics And Data Management Core, Penn Center For AIDS Research
  • Jason Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Public Health (Health Policy), Yale School of Public Health and Assistant Professor, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University
  • Moderator: Carmel Shachar, Executive Director, the Petrie-Flom Center, and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

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

Learn more about the Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia.

The Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia is a monthly series that convenes two international experts from different fields or vantage points to discuss how biomedical innovation and health care delivery are affected by various ethical norms, laws, and regulations. They are organized by the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School and the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Support provided by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

The Conduct of Clinical Trials of Treatments during Public Health Emergencies: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

The Conduct of Clinical Trials of Treatments during Public Health Emergencies: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium
February 9, 2018, 12:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

In the past several years, the United States has struggled to respond to viral outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika.  There is now an awareness of the need to rapidly develop vaccines and treatments for epidemics that can quickly spread from country to country. But questions remain as how to best conduct clinical trials and development of vaccines in the context of an epidemic or outbreak.

Join two health policy experts in examining the appropriate conduct of clinical trials during public health emergencies.

Panelists

  • Susan Ellenberg, Professor Of Biostatistics, Biostatistics And Epidemiology, the Hospital of the University Of Pennsylvania and Director, Biostatistics And Data Management Core, Penn Center For AIDS Research
  • Jason Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Public Health (Health Policy), Yale School of Public Health and Assistant Professor, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University
  • Moderator: Carmel Shachar, Executive Director, the Petrie-Flom Center, and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

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

Learn more about the Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia.

The Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia is a monthly series that convenes two international experts from different fields or vantage points to discuss how biomedical innovation and health care delivery are affected by various ethical norms, laws, and regulations. They are organized by the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School and the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Support provided by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Why Are So Many American Women Dying in Childbirth?

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

In November Serena Williams, indisputably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – tennis player in history gave birth to her daughter by emergency Caesarean section. After the surgery, Williams reported to an attending nurse that she was experiencing shortness of breath and immediately assumed she was experiencing pulmonary embolism. The star athlete has a history of blood clots and had discontinued blood thinners before the surgical delivery. Contrary to William’s requests for a CT scan and blood thinners, medical staff assumed that pain medication had made her confused. A later CT scan confirmed Williams’ self-diagnosis. Stripping out the fact of Williams’ identity turns this near-miss into a terrifyingly common story in US maternal care, albeit one with a happier ending than many. The global trend in maternal death rates – the rate of women dying in childbirth and post-childbirth – has rapidly decreased over the past 15 years. At the same time, the US, despite recording one of the highest per capita income levels in the world, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

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The Mexico City Rule and Maternal Death

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

The ‘Mexico City Rule’ is a Reagan-era regulation which bars US funding to worldwide NGOs which provide counselling relating to abortion, or referrals for abortion services, or which advocate for the expansion of abortion access. The regulation is a sticking point for the two-party reality of US politics, and has been rescinded by every Democratic president since Reagan, and reinstated by each Republican president. Trump is no exception, and his administration’s approach to the policy has been exceedingly expansionist; where the policy traditionally only applied to aid tied to family planning projects, the policy now extends to all international health care aid provided by the US government, amounting to almost $9 billion every year, and covering US aid policies in the areas of family planning and reproductive health, infectious diseases, TB treatment, children’s health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention, water and sanitation programs, and tropical diseases.

The effect of the policy extends past the years in which it is actively in place. Population Action International reports on a reluctance on the part of US governmental officials and non-governmental partners to enter into agreements with organizations that may be ineligible for funding in the future based on the putative reinstatement of the policy, in effect operationalizing the policy beyond the times in which it is in active effect. Beyond the expanded remit given to the policy by the Trump administration, and the temporal expansion based on likely reinstatement, the wording of the policy itself goes some way to expanding the scope of the policy beyond what might be necessary in a vacuum. The structural effect of the policy is to prevent the funding of abortion access with US aid money (an outcome which is illegal regardless through the Helms Amendment) and abortion advocacy. The policy contemplates a neat categorization of organizations such that it is possible to carve out the aspects of a healthcare organization that deal with abortion care as an aspect of reproductive health and justice. Read More

Instagram and the Regulation of Eating Disorder Communities

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

I’m sure not how much time the average health law enthusiast spends on Instagram, but as a rare opportunity to see health regulation in real-time, I’d encourage logging onto the site, which curates content based on user profiles and by tags, and searching for the following tags; #thinspo, #thighgap, and #eatingdisorder. The site will either return no results, or will present the searcher with a warning message that “Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death” and encouraging the user to reach out for help, though the flagged content is still accessible if the user clicks-through. #thinspo (short for another neologism, ‘thinspiration’) is exactly what it sounds like – images designed to inspire an individual to restrict their diet, and exercise to attain what will generally be an underweight physique. Many social media sites have enacted similar bans on content as a reaction to the role that online communities can play in promoting eating disorders.

As a suite of illnesses, eating disorders have severe, and sometimes life-threatening medical complications. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of all psychiatric illnesses; bulimia carries severe medical complications associated with starvation and purging including bone disease, heart complications, digestive tract distress, and even infertility, and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) while carrying subclinical status in DMS-IV, carries similar levels of eating pathology and general psychopathology to anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder, and a similar degree of danger to physical health to anorexia. Instagram had been criticised for its inaction in the face of an explosion of pro-eating disorder community activity on its site after Tumblr and Pinterest enacted bans on ‘thinspiration’ content, at which point many users migrated to Instagram’s platform. Five years on from the initial ban, some terms, like #starve and #purge will display the above warning message; other obvious tags for the pro-eating disorder community, like #skinnyinspiration and #thinspire attract no warning message and display images of emaciated women, romanticizations of eating disorders, images of individuals destroying food, and in line with clinical understandings of how eating disorders manifest themselves, images of self harm.

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Religion, Health, and Medicine: the Dialectic of Embedded Social Systems

The philosopher in me understands that there are universal principles in logic, mathematics, and in basic scientific tenets such as the law of gravity. Be that as it may, the historian in me recognizes that we inherit epistemologies and ways of thinking from those before us, and from our own historical and cultural contexts. Certain ideas dominate the world; and, while some are indeed universal, especially those based on science, the fact remains that a number of other concepts are only seemingly universal. The concepts of personhood, divinity, self, and even society as we tend to understand them today are largely inherited from a Western, Christian worldview. As these ideas have wrestled with philosophical inquiry throughout history, they have either been decoupled from their origins in religious thought, or they have been secularized and rationalized a la Kantian categorical imperatives or the like—and then disseminated in universities, institutions, cultures, and literatures.

On one level, to speak of the Western world as “secular” is, as the philosopher Charles Taylor notes, to say that “belief in God, or in the transcendent in any form, is contested; it is an option among many; it is therefore fragile; for some people in some milieus, it is very difficult, even ‘weird’” (Taylor: 2011, 49). But on another and much deeper level, this very possibility was only ever tenable on account of two major factors: “First, there had to develop a culture that marks a clear division between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural,’ and second, it had to come to seem possible to live entirely within the natural” (Taylor, 50). This was only possible because of a unique philosophical climate that actively sought to dislodge the old form of moral order and social “embeddedness” in an attempt to establish a “purely immanent order.” Taylor’s groundbreaking work, A Secular Age argues that secularism is part of a grand narrative in the West and shows that its historical and cultural foundations are in fact thoroughly Christian and European. He pushes back against Max Weber’s secularization thesis that religion diminishes in the modern world and in the wake of increasing developments in science and technology—and instead gives a different account of what secularism might mean: one that has deep implications for morality, politics, and philosophy.

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First, Do No Harm: NGOs and Corporate Donations

By Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

Last year Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) refused free vaccinations for pneumonia from Pfizer, who had offered the medicines as a corporate donation to the humanitarian organisation. The explanation MSF provided (available here) makes for an interesting, if uncomfortable read. Looming large is the lengthy history of negotiations between MSF with the only manufacturers of the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. MSF claim that the only sustainable solution to a disease that claims the lives of almost a million children each year is an overall reduction in the cost of the vaccine, and not one-off donations that come with restrictions on where MSF may use the medicines, and a constant power disparity between the parties, where Pfizer may release the medication on their own timeline, and revoke access as they see fit.

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Copenhagen Conference: Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing

Join us at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 20 November, 2017 to discuss Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing.

CALL FOR PAPERS

Emerging technologies in Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing offer incredible opportunities and promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced by humanity, such as climate change, environmental protection, growing population, renewable energy and improved health care. But the emerging applications also raise exceptional ethical, legal and social questions.

This conference marks the final phase of the participation of the Copenhagen Biotech and Pharma Forum (CBPF) Research Group at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) in the cross-faculty research project BioSYNergy. In accordance with the goals of this large cross-faculty project on Synthetic Biology, the event explores legal perspectives on synthetic biology, systems biology and gene editing. Dealing with the legal responses to ethical and scientific challenges raised by emerging life science technology. Read More