Concept: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Paradoxical Legal Treatment of Preventive Medicine

By Doron Dorfman

Preventive medicine is a tool used by individual patients, primary care physicians, and governmental agencies to preempt illnesses rather than to treat them after they have arisen. Despite this salubrious aim, stigma, shame, and fear often are attached to the use of preventative care.

The stigma around preventive medicine can arise from the tendency to view such measures as a proxy for risky or otherwise socially marginalized behavior or lifestyle. Why would someone use a preventative measure if they are not at high risk as a consequence of their own choices?

Consider, for example, what I call “sexually charged” preventative health measures like the human papillomavirus vaccine or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a highly effective daily drug regimen that prevents HIV infection, which has become specifically popular with gay and bisexual men.

As I discuss in a forthcoming paper, PrEP has been viewed by policymakers and health care professionals as a “license for promiscuity” due to the fear of risk compensation, meaning the adjustment of risky behavior by those who take PrEP to potentially have sex with more partners and with no condoms. Such views are reflected in Kelley v. Becerra, a case pending before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, where plaintiffs wish to purchase insurance that excludes coverage for PrEP and contraception, to which they object to on religious and moral grounds.

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Concept illustration of DNA and genes.

The Civil Rights Challenge to Gene Patenting

By Jorge L. Contreras

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a unique lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, challenging fifteen claims of seven patents covering various aspects of the BRCA1/2 genes and their use in diagnosing risk for breast and ovarian cancer. In mounting this case, the ACLU assembled a coalition of lawyers, scientists, counselors, patients and advocates in an unprecedented challenge not only to one company’s patents, but the entire practice of gene patenting in America. And, against the odds, they won. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring DNA sequences are not patentable, a ruling that has had repercussions throughout the scientific community and the biotechnology industry.

In The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA (New York: Hachette/Algonquin, 2021), I describe the long road that led to this unlikely Supreme Court victory. It began in 2003 when the ACLU hired its first science advisor, a Berkeley-based cellist and non-profit organizer named Tania Simoncelli. At the ACLU, Simoncelli’s job was to identify science-related issues that the ACLU could do something about, from DNA fingerprinting to functional MRI brain imaging. A couple of years into the role, Simoncelli mentioned gene patenting to Chris Hansen, a veteran ACLU litigator who had been involved in cases covering mental health to school desegregation to online porn. At first, Hansen didn’t believe her. How could a company patent something inside the human body? But Simoncelli persisted, showing him articles and statistics demonstrating that, by 2005, more than 20% of the human genome was covered by patents. The realization led to Hansen’s oft-quoted exclamation, “Who can we sue?”

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Globe and vaccine.

Promoting Vaccine Equity

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief longstanding equity problems surrounding the allocation of newly developed vaccines against emerging pathogens.

In my upcoming book, Vaccines as Technology: Innovation, Barriers, and the Public Health, I examine these problems and look into possible solutions to incrementally build more equitable frameworks of access to vaccines targeting emerging pathogens. These solutions focus on ensuring that vaccines are made available affordably to the populations that need them the most according to public health parameters.

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

Toward a Broader Telehealth Licensing Scheme

By Fazal Khan

Evidence generated during the first year the COVID-19 pandemic has called into question the need for many of the telehealth restrictions that were in effect prior to the pandemic.

The question many policymakers are asking now is: which of the telehealth regulatory waivers enacted during the pandemic should become permanent?

My forthcoming article proposes that the federal government use its spending power to incentivize states to adopt a de facto national telehealth licensing scheme through state-based mutual recognition of licensing and scope of practice reforms through a Medicaid program funding “bonus.”

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UN United Nations general assembly building with world flags flying in front - First Avenue, New York City, NY, USA

Legal Capacity and Persons with Disabilities’ Struggle to Reclaim Control over Their Lives

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 Matthew S. Smith & Michael Ashley Stein

Persons with disabilities face an ongoing struggle to reclaim power and control over their lives.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an important tool in this struggle.

In mental health care settings, the CRPD has challenged states and practitioners to reject coercive forms of care orchestrated by substitute decision-makers — be they clinicians, family members, or court appointees — in favor of modalities that preserve and privilege individuals’ direct control over their care.

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abortion protest outside supreme court.

Pregnancy Loss, Abortion Rights, and a Holistic Reproductive Justice Movement

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 Greer Donley and Jill Wieber Lens

In the summer of 2020, celebrity Chrissy Teigen shared her son’s stillbirth with her tens of millions of followers on social media, including photos of her agony at her son’s simultaneous birth and death.

Teigen and her husband, John Legend, are noted supporters of abortion rights. After Jack’s death, Planned Parenthood tweeted its condolences: “We’re so sorry to hear that Chrissy Teigen and John Legend lost their son, and we admire them for sharing their story.”

Backlash was swift, accusing both Teigen and Planned Parenthood of hypocrisy, questioning how one could believe abortion involves only a “clump of cells,” yet grieve a pregnancy loss.

This anecdote perfectly highlights the perceived conflict between pregnancy loss and abortion rights — that any recognition of loss in the context of stillbirth or miscarriage could cause a slippery slope to fetal personhood.

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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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