Abstract glitch with word SCAM on 100 Dollar bill. Concept art for Online scam.

Rethinking Senior Scams?

By James Toomey

Many people, including, it seems, most advocates for law reform, assume that older adults are uniquely vulnerable to scams, and indeed that senior scams are a unique social problem demanding a unique legal solution. But in “The Age of Fraud” (forthcoming in the Harvard Journal on Legislation, winter 2023), about which I’ve blogged here before, I reported the results of an empirical study suggesting that, in fact, younger adults were as much as three times more likely to engage with scammers during the first year of the COVID pandemic than older adults.

One possible implication of this finding — if indeed it is generalizable — which I discuss but don’t commit to in the paper, is that more people are more vulnerable to scams — and the polished tactics of psychological manipulation used by scammers — than has been generally appreciated. But if scams are not a bounded problem of those who are in some sense more psychologically vulnerable (as older adults are thought of in, at least, the popular imagination), we might want to rethink scams — what they are, how we fight them, and how we treat and think about their victims.

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Cell culture.

A New Theory for Gene Ownership

By James Toomey

The story of Henrietta Lacks is surely among the most famous in the history of bioethics, and its facts are well-known. Ms. Lacks sought treatment for cervical cancer. After conducting a biopsy on her tumor, her doctors learned that her cancer cells reproduced uniquely effectively. Without her knowledge or consent, her doctors derived from the cells the HeLa cell line — the world’s first immortal human cell line, worth billions and a driver of the biotechnology revolution. Lacks died in poverty.

No doubt her doctors’ behavior was not consistent with today’s standards of informed consent. But another question has remained more persistently challenging — did the doctors steal something from Lacks? Did she own the cells of her tumor? Or, perhaps more precisely, because few argue that HeLa is really the same thing as Lacks’s tumor cells, did she own the genetic information contained in her tumor?

In a new paper, Property’s Boundaries (forthcoming in the Virginia Law Review, March 2023), I develop a theory of what can and cannot be owned to answer these kinds of questions — pervasive in bioethics, from debates about ownership of organs to embryos. My conclusion, in short, is that because the essence of the idea of ownership is a relationship of absolute control, anything that can be the subject of human control can, in principle, be owned. But that which we cannot control we cannot own. From this perspective, Henrietta Lacks owned the cells of her tumor, and the tumor itself. But the genetic information within them — facts about the universe subject to no human control — simply cannot be owned, by her or anyone else.

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Nov 22, 2019 Palo Alto / CA / USA - Close up of Amazon logo and Smile symbol at one of their corporate offices located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco bay area.

One Medical Acquisition: The Path Forward

This piece has been adapted slightly from its original form, which was published at On the Flying Bridge on July 24, 2022.

By Michael Greeley

Last week’s $3.9 billion acquisition of One Medical (NASDAQ: ONEM) by Amazon triggered significant hyperventilating about the transformative and immediate impact of this transaction on the health care industry. Interestingly, Amazon’s market capitalization increased 1.4% or $18.3 billion on the day of the announcement, paying for the purchase a few times over. Undoubtedly there could be exciting near-term benefits for the 750,000 ONEM members as their Amazon Prime accounts are linked to their ONEM memberships, facilitating targeted Whole Food and Amazon Pharmacy coupons. But what we might expect to see over time is a provocative debate with powerful implications for how each of us manage the arc of our health care journeys.
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Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

Stemming Supreme Court Rights Reversals

By James G. Hodge, Jr.

Based on the May 2022 leak of an initial draft, most believe the Supreme Court will carry through some rescission of abortion rights later this month through its final opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Already, concerns have arisen over other freedoms the Court may seriously reconsider down the road, including rights to gay marriage, intimacy, contraception, and informational privacy.

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Black and white photograph of the front of the Supreme Court. Pro-abortion protestors stand holding signs, one of which reads "I stand with Whole Woman's Health"

A Brief History of Abortion Jurisprudence in the United States

By James R. Jolin

POLITICO’s leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests that U.S. abortion rights are on the verge of a fundamental shift.

If the official decision, expected this month, hews closely to the draft, the constitutional right to abortion affirmed in Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and other seminal Supreme Court rulings will disappear.

This brief history of abortion rights and jurisprudence in the United States aims to clarify just what is at stake in this case.

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Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

The Leaked Dobbs Opinion, Explained

By Chloe Reichel

On May 2, 2022, Politico published a leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which showed the Supreme Court’s intent to overturn the right to abortion as decided in Roe v. Wade.

In response to the leak, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a discussion with legal historian and Daniel P.S. Paul Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law Mary Ziegler and Petrie-Flom Center Faculty Director, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law, and Deputy Dean I. Glenn Cohen.

Together, Cohen and Ziegler explained the background of the case, the contents of the draft opinion, and its potential implications not just for abortion access, but also for other constitutionally-protected rights, and for access to reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization.

The highlights of the conversation have been edited and condensed below.

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Open front door.

Re-Imagining Work in the Post-Pandemic Era: An Arendtian Lens

By Xochitl L. Mendez

The coronavirus pandemic changed the world in countless ways, and for a moment it challenged the pre-pandemic separation of — in Hannah Arendt’s terms — the Private and the Public. To Arendt, the Public is defined as the sole realm where a human can live in full, as a person integral and part of a community as an equal. Being human is only fully procurable by the presence that a person achieves when acting among others. Contrastingly, to Arendt the Private is a shadowy space without the sufficient worth to merit “being seen or heard” by others. The Private is also the place where toiling with the endless necessities of providing for one’s body resides.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged this separation. As many people and their loved ones fell seriously ill, an overwhelming portion of our nation found themselves for the first time living a struggle that previously was familiar mainly to those who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Millions were locked down and marooned at home — a radically novel experience to many, yet one that is sadly commonplace to a considerable number of individuals who live with disability and illness every day. Large portions of the workforce found themselves restricted to working remotely — a reality habitual to individuals who lack access to the workplace. All of these experiences suddenly stopped being private experiences — they became critical concerns discussed by a citizenry of equals, worth “being seen or heard” by others, and demanding policy and political action.

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WASHINGTON MAY 21: Pro-choice activists rally to stop states’ abortion bans in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 21, 2019.

Tennessee on My Mind: Reflections on the Reinstated Abortion ‘Reason Bans’

By Cathy Zhang

In February, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-sentence order allowing Tennessee’s “reason ban” abortion restrictions to go into effect. The restrictions make it a felony for a provider (or any other person) to perform an abortion if the provider “knows” the patient is seeking an abortion on account of the fetus’s sex, race, or probable diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The court below had previously enjoined the Tennessee law, which also includes a pre-viability abortion ban. This order leaves the previability ban in place while lifting the injunction on the reason bans; the reason bans will remain in effect until the Supreme Court makes a further ruling on abortion in Dobbs. In her dissent, Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore charged that the court’s order “subvert[s] the normal judicial process” and reflects a growing tendency of federal courts “to delay the adjudication of laws that significantly impair constitutional rights.”

Numerous health organizations, racial justice groups, and disability advocates alike have warned against the harms that the reason bans will inflict on people of color and disabled persons. Statements from these groups, along with 19 states and the District of Columbia, a host of constitutional law scholars, and other amici make clear that the law’s purported concern for marginalized groups belies an effort to restrict abortion access at the expense of pregnant people’s health and constitutional rights.

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(Institute for the feeble-minded, Lincoln, Ill. / Library of Congress)

Brittney Poolaw and the Long Tradition of State-Sponsored Control of Women and Their Fertility

By Lauren Breslow

On October 5, 2021, a 20-year-old Native American woman, Brittney Poolaw, was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of manslaughter for the death of her 17-week-old, non-viable fetus.

Her conviction stands as a modern recapitulation of the historical violations that women, especially Black and Brown women, have endured regarding their fertility.

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Activists and concerned residents of New York City gathered at Union Square to demand Free, Safe and Legal Abortion on Sept 12, 2021.

Health Justice Meets Reproductive Justice

By Rachel Rebouché

Over the past few weeks, the headlines have been dominated by the implementation of a Texas “heartbeat” law. The law, which prohibits abortions after detection of fetal cardiac activity, “shall be enforced exclusively through . . . private civil actions” and “no enforcement may be undertaken by an officer of the state or local government.” For that reason, the Fifth Circuit, and then the Supreme Court, declined to enjoin the law’s application because, in part, no one had yet to enforce it. The Court did not opine on the law’s constitutionality, even though the statute directly contradicts precedent protecting abortion rights before viability. Indeed, as the DOJ argued in its recent lawsuit against Texas, the state designed the law specifically to circumvent judicial review.

What does Texas’s abortion ban have to do with health justice? The answer may not seem obvious because of how the debate over Texas’s law has been framed. Commentary has focused on whether or not litigants have standing to challenge the law or whether the federal government could successfully intervene to stop enforcement of the law. And these are important questions, especially for the providers and those “aiding and abetting” them, who are subject to the lawsuits of private citizens suing for $10,000 per procedure in violation of the law.

The costs of this law, however, could far exceed these potential damages. A health justice perspective highlights those costs and how lack of access to abortion entrenches economic and racial inequality.

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