A range of contraceptive methods: DMPA, vaginal ring, IUD, emergency contraceptive, contraceptive pills.

Connecting the Dots: Reproductive Justice + Research Justice = Health Justice

By Monica R. McLemore

I believe that together, reproductive justice and research justice should result in health justice.

I am choosing to focus on research because it is the evidence base that is foundational to clinical care provision and because teaching is generated by research.

Thus, research serves as one root cause of harm associated with clinical care and teaching, and a potential barrier to realizing health justice, which has been outlined as a comprehensive approach to resolve the social determinants of health and develop jurisprudence toward health equity. Research justice is critical to the conceptualization, development and implementation of these measures.

However, the law cannot establish health justice without reproductive justice, at least not for pregnant-capable people. Reproductive health, rights, and justice have been the proverbial canaries in the coal mine when considering the loss of bodily autonomy and human rights.

Read More

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.

Read More

Society or population, social diversity. Flat cartoon vector illustration.

Engendering Equity in Biomedical Research by Meeting Communities Where They Are

By Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup

To address the root of both health disparities and community underrepresentation in biomedical research, it is mission-critical to teach early-stage career researchers how to empower underrepresented communities as partners in research while respecting and appreciating local history, context, and values.

As a researcher, I often encounter empirical studies in the literature that explore and experiment with institutionally– (versus community-) derived interventions that are meant to help boost underrepresented community engagement in biomedical research.

What if researchers took more time to intentionally harness their power and training to elevate, empower, and mobilize the voices of the communities they study to help design more impactful engagement interventions?

Read More

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.

Read More

Medical staff work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 patients in University Hospital of Liege in Belgium on May 5th, 2020.

The Legality of Pandemic Detection and Prevention Technology

*This article is adapted from a longer paper published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. To access the original paper, please click here.

By April Xiaoyi Xu  

A test-and-isolate system for detecting and monitoring new pathogens could avert future pandemics, but may face legal challenges in implementation.

The test-and-isolate model is described in a 2020 Scientific American article by biochemist David Ecker. Ecker recommends strategically placing modern, high-speed metagenomic sequencing technology in urban hospitals across the United States to flag previously-unknown pathogens before the infectious agents have the opportunity to spread widely and potentially start a new pandemic.

Under this model, during a time period without any apparent pandemics, the 200 biggest metropolitan hospitals in the U.S. would automatically run diagnostic tests up-front for novel causative agents among patients who visit the emergency room with severe respiratory symptoms that are possibly infectious. If such a system detects a sufficiently serious pathogen, public health agencies will send out diagnostic tests to all residents in the affected geographical area(s) within weeks and isolate those who test positive. This system also will be integrated with contact tracing and more standard outbreak response.

Read More

Person receiving vaccine.

Why Do Differences in Clinical Trial Design Make It Hard to Compare COVID-19 Vaccines?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on June 30, 2021. 

By Lisa Larrimore OuelletteNicholson PriceRachel Sachs, and Jacob S. Sherkow

The number of COVID-19 vaccines is growing, with 18 vaccines in use around the world and many others in development. The global vaccination campaign is slowly progressing, with over 3 billion doses administered, although the percentage of doses administered in low-income countries remains at only 0.3%. But because of differences in how they were tested in clinical trials, making apples-to-apples comparisons is difficult — even just for the 3 vaccines authorized by the FDA for use in the United States. In this post, we explore the open questions that remain because of these differences in clinical trial design, the FDA’s authority to help standardize clinical trials, and what lessons can be learned for vaccine clinical trials going forward.

Read More

Traditional countryside scene in the Netherlands with windbreak lane of poplar trees in the wind under summer sky. Ens, Flevoland Province, the Netherlands.

Q&A with Mason Marks on New Psychedelics Law and Regulation Initiative

By Chloe Reichel

On June 30th, the Petrie-Flom Center announced the launch of a three-year research initiative, the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR), which is supported by a generous grant from the Saisei Foundation.

The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School will advance evidence-based psychedelics law and policy.

In 2017, the FDA designated MDMA a breakthrough therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and in 2018 the agency recognized psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy for treatment-resistant depression. These designations indicate that psychedelics may represent substantial improvements over existing treatments for mental health conditions. Many other psychedelics, including ibogaine, ketamine, and dimethyltryptamine, are the focus of ongoing psychiatric research and commercialization efforts.

Despite the proliferation of clinical research centers and increasing private investment in psychedelic drug development, there is a relative lack of research on the ethical, legal, and social implications of psychedelics research, commerce, and therapeutics.

In the following interview, which has been edited and condensed, Senior Fellow and POPLAR Project Lead Mason Marks explains how POPLAR will fill this gap, and previews some of the initiative’s topics of inquiry.

Read More

Emergency department entrance.

“Stick to the Science”? FDA, Ethics, and Pandemics

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on February 8, 2021. 

By

Throughout the current pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts have called on the government to “stick to the science.” This was at the same time that former President Donald Trump repeatedly undermined scientific expertise and prioritized political interests over responsible public health practices. Yet the particular ways in which the Trump administration mishandled the pandemic can divert attention from more fundamental challenges confronting government actors in any emergency — challenges that respect for science alone is insufficient to address. These challenges concern the norms guiding regulators’ exercise of their power under the law, as well as the proper role of values in public health and public policy more broadly.

FDA has struggled throughout COVID-19 to maintain high standards of integrity, including independence from undue political influence. We see this most clearly in the decisions FDA has faced in applying its power to issue emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for medical countermeasures against COVID-19. FDA’s experience using its emergency powers during COVID-19 speaks to the complex relationship between science and ethics in health policy — between empirical fact finding and normative questions involving ethics and public values.

This post reflects on the ethical implications of FDA’s use of its emergency powers, and suggests opportunities for greater accountability and more systematic decision-making by health regulators moving forward.

Read More

Doctor, DNA, microscope concept illustration.

Reclassification of Genetic Test Results: Potential Time Bombs in the Medical Record? 

By Ellen Wright Clayton

Findings from genetic tests are not static; as knowledge advances, our understanding of the implications of these results evolves.

But what this means for physicians and their duties to patients is unresolved, as I explain with co-authors in a new article in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the ACMG.

There is an increasing drumbeat of support for an ethical and legal duty for physicians to reinterpret genetic test results and re-contact patients about these new understandings to improve their care.

Currently, reviewing prior medical records is by no means routine. Clinicians may review past records if they suspect that they have missed something as symptoms evolve, or that the significance of a symptom or biomarker may have changed because of new research.

Read More

Kratom leaves and capsules.

A Sensible, Evidence-Based Proposal for Kratom Reform

By Dustin Marlan

In May 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the seizure of 37,500 tons of adulterated kratom in Florida, worth an estimated $1.3 million.

But rather than focusing on the fact that the seized substance was adulterated, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock emphasized the alleged toxicity of kratom. This telling choice falls in line with recent efforts by the FDA to end U.S. kratom sales, distribution, and use, including a failed 2016 attempt to have kratom placed into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, along with other federally prohibited drugs such as cannabis, psilocybin, and heroin.

This reactionary prohibitionism is likely to do more harm than good. Moreover, it does not reflect the state of the science, which remains unsettled as to kratom’s risks and benefits.

Read More