Los Angeles, California / USA - May 28, 2020: People in Downtown Los Angeles protest the brutal Police killing of George Floyd.

Health Justice: Love, Freedom Dreaming, and Power Building

By Jamila Michener

“Justice is what love looks like in public.”

— Cornel West

Simple yet resonant, Cornel West’s rendering of justice draws on an emotion that most people understand on a deep personal level: love. Viewing health justice through the lens of love concretizes it when I am otherwise tempted to treat it as an abstract notion. Love is familiar, intuitive, and tangible. Conceptualizing health justice as a public enactment of love directs my thoughts to the people I cherish most dearly, bringing the reality of the concept into sharp relief.

What do I want for the people I love? Of course, I want them to have access to high-quality health care: primary care doctors, acute care physicians, specialists, nurses, therapists, local hospitals where they will be treated with dignity and much more.

Over and above these features of health care systems, I want the people I love to have the building blocks necessary for healthy living: safe and comfortable housing, nutritious food, supportive social relationships, jobs that offer a living wage, education, freedom from poverty, violence, and exploitation.

Going even further, I want the people I love to have the agency to shape their own lives and the capacity to chart paths in the communities they inhabit. In short, I want them to have power. Power facilitates all the things listed above (i.e., the social determinants of health) on a durable, equitable, and sustainable basis.

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Los Angeles, California, United States. June 23, 2021: #FreeBritney rally at LA Downtown Grand Park during a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears.

There’s More to Decision-Making Capacity than Cognitive Function

The Health Law, Policy, Bioethics, and Biotechnology Workshop provides a forum for discussion of new scholarship in these fields from the world’s leading experts. Though the Workshop is typically open to the public, it is not currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many of our presenters will contribute blog posts summarizing their work, which we are happy to share here on Bill of Health.

By James Toomey

The doctrine of capacity is a mess.

From Britney Spears’s high-profile struggles to establish her own capacity to the countless, quiet challenges of so many older adults, the doctrine of capacity, which requires people to have the cognitive functioning to understand the nature and consequences of a decision in order for it to be recognized in law, is vague, normatively and medically challenging, and inconsistently applied.

This is a big deal — at stake in every capacity case is whether, on the one hand, an individual may access the legal rights most of us take for granted, to enter into contracts, buy or transfer property, or get married or divorced; or, on the other, whether the legal system will ratify a decision the “real person” never would have made.

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Four individuals embracing each other at the waist.

The Communities of Health Justice

By Charlene Galarneau

To the extent that communities are the principal contexts for the social relations and institutions most central to health and health care, then communities should be critical moral actors in determining what constitutes health justice.

I propose that the health justice framework may be fruitfully developed in conversation with community justice, a social justice framework for health and health care that centers communities and their notions of health justice within national standards of justice. As Michael Walzer has observed, “Justice is a human construction, and it is doubtful that it can be made in only one way.”

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Picture of Ivermectin tablets.

Legal and Ethical Analysis of Court-Ordered Ivermectin Treatment for COVID-19

By Jennifer S. Bard

A judge in Ohio ruled on Monday that a hospital in the region must administer ivermectin to a patient very sick with COVID-19 in their ICU, despite the decision by the medical staff, in agreement with recent statements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that ivermectin is not an appropriate treatment, as it has been shown not to work against COVID.

The patient’s prescription came from a doctor who has no authority to treat patients at this particular hospital, although he is licensed to prescribe medicine in Ohio.

This case tracks a swelling interest, which some ascribe to the efforts of a group called America’s Front Line Doctors, among people for the anti-parasitic medication as both a treatment and prophylactic for COVID-19 — despite warnings from the medical establishment that it doesn’t work, and, if taken in the form normally given to farm animals or at the dosages being suggested, can be harmful.

The Ohio ruling is just the latest of several successful law suits (see similar cases in New York and Illinois) to order hospitals to administer ivermectin to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, despite the objections of the treating physicians.

There is also evidence of a global trend, as evidenced by the order of a court in South Africa to allow the prescription of ivermectin for COVID-19, something that was previously not permitted by the country’s drug regulatory agency.

This trend of courts ordering that treatments requested by hospitalized patients be made available by that hospital — so long as they are prescribed by a physician — opens the door to substantial administrative, legal, and ethical chaos. This post analyzes some of the most pressing legal, regulatory, and ethical concerns.

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Close up of a computer screen displaying code

Mitigating Bias in Direct-to-Consumer Health Apps

By Sara Gerke and Chloe Reichel

Recently, Google announced a new direct-to-consumer (DTC) health app powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose skin conditions.

The company met criticism for the app, because the AI was primarily trained on images from people with darker white skin, light brown skin, and fair skin. This means the app may end up over-or under-diagnosing conditions for people with darker skin tones.

This prompts the questions: How can we mitigate biases in AI-based health care? And how can we ensure that AI improves health care, rather than augmenting existing health disparities?

That’s what we asked of our respondents to our In Focus Series on Direct-to-Consumer Health Apps. Read their answers below, and check out their responses to the other questions in the series.

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Map of remote execution requirements for advance directives.

Advance Care Planning in an Online World: State Law Activity and Challenges Since COVID-19

By Nikol Nesterenko, Jonathan Chernoguz, and Sarah Hooper

Advance care planning — the process by which an individual documents their wishes for health care in the event that they become incapacitated — has become particularly urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, individuals that wish to engage in advance care planning, and specifically to document their plans in a written form (i.e., advance directives), have faced significant hurdles due to legal execution requirements. State advance directive law often requires or presumes live, in-person witnessing or notarization, actions which were prohibited by social distancing orders or simply unsafe during the pandemic.

In this piece, we summarize the state of remote execution requirements for advance directives before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadly speaking, while many states took some action in this regard, most did not enact comprehensive changes, and therefore failed to meaningfully facilitate remote execution of advance directives.

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mask

COVID-19 is Still a Crisis for All

By Chloe Reichel

Recently, a narrative that COVID-19 is now a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” has emerged.

Setting aside the callousness of the claim, the biggest problem with this narrative is that it’s wrong. COVID-19 continues to threaten the health and well-being of all, regardless of vaccination status.

As we now know, vaccinated individuals can be infected with and transmit the delta variant. “Breakthrough” infections are not rare — countries with better data collection efforts than the U.S., including Israel and the United Kingdom, estimate vaccine efficacy against infection by the delta variant at around 40-50%.

This isn’t to say that the vaccines are worthless. We should continue to work to promote vaccine uptake, as the vaccines do provide a level of protection against the most severe outcomes.

But we need to understand: We can’t end this pandemic with vaccines alone.

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gavel.

Appeals Court Overturns FDA’s Partial Ban on Shock Devices: Analysis of Ruling

By David Orentlicher

In its regulation of medical devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may ban devices that pose “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.” But earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided that the FDA may not issue a partial ban of a medical device.

The case, Judge Rotenberg Educational Center v. FDA, addressed the use of electrical stimulation devices to treat self-injurious or aggressive behavior, as in patients with serious intellectual or developmental disabilities.

In March 2020, the FDA attempted to prohibit this use of electrical stimulation (or electrical shock) because of the risks it poses to patients. As the FDA observed, persons with self-injurious or aggressive behavior may have “difficulty communicating pain and other harms caused by” electrical stimulation, and consent to the use of electrical stimulation is typically made by a third party, limiting the patient’s control over use of the device.

In other settings, including smoking cessation treatment, or treatment of substance use disorder, the FDA permits the practice. Hence the partial, rather than total, ban of electrical stimulation devices.

But by a 2-1 vote, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center court held that prohibiting electrical stimulation in some settings, but not others, runs afoul of a “practice of medicine” statutory provision. This provision precludes the FDA from limiting or interfering with a health care practitioner’s authority “to prescribe or administer any legally marketed device to a patient for any condition or disease.” In the majority’s view, once the FDA permits use of a medical device, it must defer to the states for regulation of decisions regarding which patients are appropriate candidates for the device.

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Herndon, USA - April 27, 2020: Virginia Fairfax County building exterior sign entrance to Mom's Organic Market store with request to wear face mask due to covid-19 pandemic.

The Current COVID-19 Surge, Eugenics, and Health-Based Discrimination

By Jacqueline Fox

COVID has shown us that the burdens and inequities that characterize everyday life for many Americans are not merely vestiges of an older time, but an honest reflection of our unwillingness to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

We have undergone an ethical stress test in the last 18 months. While many people have exhibited heroic commitments to their fellow citizens, much of our governmental response is indefensible in a society that professes to care for all of its members. This implies we are not such a society.

Rather, we are a society riddled with healthism — discrimination based on health status — and eugenics — a pseudo-science that arbitrarily elevates some human traits over others, much as we do with breeding dogs and horses.

As a result, although we are armed with the power to prevent much harm, we lack the will or inclination to use that power for our most vulnerable. Instead, we place different values on people’s lives using arbitrary definitions of quality, and treat people differently based on their health status. Examples include placing a lower value on a life because a person is older, disabled, or overweight.

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