Los Angeles, California / USA - May 1, 2020: People in front of Los Angeles’ City Hall protest the state’s COVID-19 stay at home orders in a “Fully Open California” protest.

5 Questions About COVID-19 and Religious Exemptions

By Chloe Reichel

On February 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a shadow docket decision that could foretell sweeping limitations for public health measures, both within and outside the COVID-19 pandemic context.

The Court’s ruling in the case, Gateway City Church v. Newsom, blocked a county-level ban on church services, despite the fact that the ban applied across the board to all indoor gatherings. This religious exceptionalism is emerging as a key trend in recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly those related to COVID-19 restrictions.

To better understand what these rulings might mean for public health, free exercise of religion, the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential vaccine mandates, I spoke with Professor Elizabeth Sepper, an expert in religious liberty, health law, and equality at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

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Vial and syringe.

4 Things to Know About Intellectual Property, Patent Pledges, and COVID-19 Vaccines

By Chloe Reichel

High-profile commentators have argued recently that vaccine scarcity needn’t exist. If vaccine manufacturers simply shared their patents with other pharmaceutical companies, supply would quickly ramp up. 

Others have pointed out that numerous bottlenecks exist in the manufacturing process, from the glass vials that hold the vaccine, to the lipids that encase the vaccine’s active ingredient, mRNA.

And even if these bottlenecks didn’t exist, the intellectual property argument may be a straw man.    

In fact, this past October, Moderna made a gesture toward opening access to its intellectual property, by pledging that it would not enforce its patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” That month, Jorge L. Contreras, a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Utah, covered the patent pledge and its potential implications for Bill of Health.

We checked in with Contreras to ask about the implications of Moderna’s patent pledge now that its vaccine has been proven safe and effective. Here are the highlights from the conversation:

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2020 with second zero filled in with virion.

Bill of Health’s Top 10 Posts of 2020

By Chloe Reichel

In 2020, topics relating to bioethics, health law policy, and biotechnology took center stage in the collective national and global consciousness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, posed countless urgent bioethical and health law policy questions. The police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked wider awareness of the systemic racial injustice in the U.S., which permeates all aspects of society and has profound detrimental effects on health.

Our contributors have grappled with these issues on the pages of this blog

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White jigsaw puzzle as a human brain on blue. Concept for Alzheimer's disease.

Detecting Dementia

Cross-posted, with slight modification, from Harvard Law Today, where it originally appeared on November 21, 2020. 

By Chloe Reichel

Experts gathered last month to discuss the ethical, social, and legal implications of technological advancements that facilitate the early detection of dementia.

“Detecting Dementia: Technology, Access, and the Law,” was hosted on Nov. 16 as part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

The event, organized by Francis X. Shen ’06 Ph.D. ’08, the Petrie-Flom Center’s senior fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience and executive director of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, was one of a series hosted by the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience on aging brains.

Early detection of dementia is a hopeful prospect for the treatment of patients, both because it may facilitate early medical intervention, as well as more robust advance care planning.

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Sign that reads "Racism is a pandemic too."

Editor’s Choice: Important Reads on Race and Health

By Chloe Reichel

Racism was embedded in the founding of the United States and has persisted in virtually all aspects of our society through the present day.

In 2020, structural racism was made especially apparent in the disproportionate toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on communities of color, which can be traced back to the social determinants of health, and in grotesque displays of police violence, such as the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain.

Racism is the public health issue of our time, after having been woefully un- or under-addressed for centuries. The following posts, which were published on Bill of Health this year, highlight some of the most pressing issues to confront, as well as potential ways forward.

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Adult and child holding kidney shaped paper on textured blue background.

Nudging Organ Donation in the United States

Cross-posted from Harvard Law Today, where it originally appeared on November 13, 2020. 

By Chloe Reichel

Nationally and globally, demand for organ transplants outstrips supply. In the United States last year, 19,267 donors made a record-setting 39,718 transplants possible, but nearly 109,000 Americans still remain on the organ transplant waiting list.

Cass Sunstein ’78, Robert Walmsley University Professor and former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, believes “Nudge theory” might help bridge this gap between supply and demand.

Sunstein joined scholars and leaders in transplant services on Friday, Nov. 6 to discuss strategies to boost rates of organ donation at “Nudging Organ Donation: Tools to Encourage Organ Availability,” an event hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

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Money.

Conflicts of Interest in the Hospital Sector: A Q&A with Rina K. Spence

By Chloe Reichel

Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently made headlines when the Boston Globe reported that the hospital’s president, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, held a seat on the board of Moderna, a Cambridge biotech company that is working to develop an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The hospital has a major role in a national study of the vaccine.

The hospital maintained that safeguards were put in place to protect against conflicts of interest during the collaboration. Nevertheless, amid public outcry, Nabel stepped down from the board.

But this story is just one high-profile case of what is commonplace in the hospital sector. A 2014 research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 40 percent of pharmaceutical company boards of directors had at least one member who also held, at the same time, a leadership role at an academic medical center.

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Journal of Law and the Biosciences Continues to Have an Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of the biosciences in our world, as well as the legal, ethical, and regulatory choices that shape the development and implementation of innovations from the biosciences.

The Journal of Law and the Biosciences (JLB) offers high-quality, open-access scholarship at the intersection of the biosciences and law as the first fully open-access, peer-reviewed, legal journal to focus on these issues.

Recently, the Journal of Law and the Biosciences received an updated impact factor of 2.275, highlighting its relevance and influence in law, medicine, and ethics. JLB ranks 25th out of 154 law journals, second of sixteen legal medicine journals, and third out of sixteen medical ethics journals.

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