HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Human Cloning Coming Soon??

While all eyes have been turned to North Korea and the nuclear weapons that country may or may not have - South Korea has been working on developing something a little different.  According to the New York Times, South Korea has advanced the process for future human cloning.  The article states,

In what scientists say is a stunning leap forward, a team of South Korean researchers has developed a highly efficient recipe for producing human embryos by cloning and then extracting their stem cells.

Writing today in the journal Science, they report that they used their method to produce 11 human stem cells lines that are genetic matches of patients aged 2 to 56.

Previously, the same group, led by Dr. Woo Suk Hwang and Dr. Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University, produced a single stem cell line from a cloned embryo, but the process was so onerous that scientists said it was not worth trying to repeat it, and some doubted the South Koreans' report was even correct. Now things have changed.

"It is a tremendous advance," said Dr. Leonard Zon, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, who was not involved in the research.

The method, called therapeutic cloning, is one of the great hopes of the stem cell field. It produces stem cells, universal cells that are extracted from embryos, killing the embryos in the process, and, in theory, can be directed to grow into any of the body's cell types. And since the stem cells come from embryos that are clones of individuals, they should be exact genetic matches. Scientists want to obtain such stem cells from patients to study the origin of diseases and to develop replacement cells that would be identical to ones a patient has lost.

. . . . . 

But not everyone is excited.

Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, said in an e-mail message that "whatever its technical merit, this research is morally troubling: it creates human embryos solely for research, makes it much easier to produce cloned babies, and exploits women as egg donors not for their benefit. "

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops shares those concerns, said Richard Doerflinger, director of pro-life activities there. He added that he also worried that a cloned baby might be next.

"Up until now, people were beginning to wonder whether human cloning for any purpose was feasible at all," Mr. Doerflinger said. "This development makes it feasible enough to be a clear and present danger."

Yikes!  I am not sure whether to be excited or scared by these developments.  [bm]

Update:  For further information and some comments, please see here and here.   The Science article discussing the research is available here.

May 19, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sperm Bank Regulations

David Plotz has written a short editorial in the New York Times concerning the FDA's recent regulations concerning sperm donors.  He finds that not only are such regulations unnecessary, they miss what he believes to be the real issue that arises with sperm donation and that is anonymity.   

. . . . New F.D.A. safety and screening standards for sperm banks, which take effect next Wednesday, include strict requirements for testing and retesting donors for H.I.V. But the F.D.A. has also published an accompanying "guidance" document advising banks to bar as donors men who have had sex with other men in the last five years, on the grounds that these men are at high risk for H.I.V. Though the guidance doesn't carry the force of regulation, many sperm banks have indicated that they will follow it. Gay groups including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Human Rights Campaign have protested, but so far in vain.

This is a case of government trying to solve a problem that no longer exists - because the free market already solved it. . . .

With its late and largely unnecessary obsession with sperm safety, the government is missing the real issue in the sperm bank world: donor anonymity. Thousands of Americans are born every year without the right to know who their father is.

The editorial raises some interesting issues not only about how to regulate sperm banks in the most effective and nondiscriminatory manner, but also concerning anonymity and whether pscyhologically it is harmful not to know one's genetic parents.  [bm]   

May 19, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hefty Fine for Staten Island University Hospital

Cheating doesn't pay and some people never learn are two thoughts that come to mind when reading the following story.  The New York Times reports today on the $76.5 million that Staten Island University Hospital has agreed to pay in settlement of fraud claims that  Attorney General Eliot Spitzer had been investigating against the hospital.   He will not be bringing criminal prosecutions against the hospital executives.   According to the Times,

This is the second time in seven years that the hospital, the largest on Staten Island, has been investigated and fined for improperly billing Medicaid, the state's health care program for the poor. In September 1999, the hospital agreed to repay New York Medicaid $45 million and provide $39 million in free care for indigent patients, for bills it had improperly submitted in a separate scheme.

But even as that settlement was being negotiated, the hospital's executives were knowingly embarking on a new plan to profit illegally from Medicaid, according to a criminal complaint against the hospital to be released today by Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer's office. And though the hospital's own lawyers warned the executives to stop, the illegal billing continued unabated, the complaint says.

Hospital executives and lawyers also repeatedly lied to State Department of Health regulators, as well as investigators in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in the state attorney general's office, trying to cover up the scheme, the complaint says.

"The magnitude and the depth of this fraud, and the willingness of the leadership there to tolerate it, was unusual," Mr. Spitzer said yesterday in an interview.

The entire article is an interesting read - if I turned these facts into an exam question, my students would not believe it.  Thanks to Jim Tomaszewski for the update.  [bm]

May 18, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Larry Gostin on Terri Schiavo

In this week's, Journal of the American Medical Association (subscription required), Larry Gostin, Professor of Law; Associate Dean (Research and Academic Programs); Director, Center for the Law and Public's Health, has an interesting article addressing the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo case.  In the article, entitled, "Ethics, the Constitution, and the Dying Process:  The Case of Theresa Marie Schiavo, he provides some ideas on how we can best address the many competing concerns that arise when individuals make end of life decisions.  He concludes the article by stating, "If political leaders were truly committed to a culture of life they would pursue humanistic policies to dignify the manner in which people live and die."  [bm]

May 18, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Computers Grading Student Exam

Dream no more, apparently someone has developed a computer program that can actually grade student essay exams!!  Ok, I admit this sounds too good to be true -- but at the same time as I look over my many student exams, there is something rather attractive about it as well.   From the article,

Student essays always seem to be riddled with the same sorts of flaws. So sociology professor Ed Brent decided to hand the work off - to a computer.

Students in Brent's Introduction to Sociology course at the University of Missouri-Columbia now submit drafts through the SAGrader software he designed. It counts the number of points he wanted his students to include and analyzes how well concepts are explained.

And within seconds, students have a score.

It used to be the students who looked for shortcuts, shopping for papers online or pilfering parts of an assignment with a simple Google search. Now, teachers and professors are realizing that they, too, can tap technology for a facet of academia long reserved for a teacher alone with a red pen.

Of course, there are those who are a bit skeptical of this new techology.  See Majikthise for more on this new grading program. [bm]

May 17, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New Science on Female Orgasm

An article in today's Science section of the New York Times discusssing Elisabeth Lloyd's new study demonstrating the female orgasm doesn't really serve any evolutionary function provides an interesting read.  According to the article,

Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm,   closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?

Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and healthier men, maximizing their offspring's chances of survival.

But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, "The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution," has no evolutionary function at all.  . .  .  .  .

The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."

Wow!  No wonder people are attacking Darwin and his theory of evolution --- women have sex for fun!!   Certainly this is more controversial than our close genetic relationship with primates.  [bm]

May 17, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Update on ADA Title II Prisoner Cases

Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times has a piece discussing the issues in the United States v. Georgia and Georgia v. Goodman cases.

Scotusblog also has an extended article examining the issues in these two cases.  [bm]

May 17, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Rights of Disabled Prisoners under the ADA

The Supreme Court has agreed to review two cases, United States v. Georgia, 04-1203, and Goodman v. Georgia, 04-1236, concerning whether states and counties can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act for not accommodating disabled prisoners.  The Washington Post has a full discussion of the cases.  [bm]

May 16, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Earlier and Earlier

Puberty is starting even earlier - some researchers say as early as age 7!!  The BBC has a good, and brief, overview of some of the reasons for the earlier start date as well as some of the societal consequences.  [bm]

May 16, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Juris Novus Featuring Blogs from the Law Professor Blogs Network

The Law Professor Blogs Network is proud to announce a collaboration with Juris Novus, one of the finest law blog aggregators online. Juris Novus will be featuring a rotating cast of blogs from our Network.

Statement from Juris Novus:

Keeping up with the blogsphere is a daunting task as new blogs come online daily. Juris Novus provides order and centralization, pulling together relevant headlines and presenting them on a single page. Law professors greatly influence the legal blogsphere. Academia demands a clear writing voice and current knowledge of legal ongoings. Successful blogging demands the same, it comes as no surprise that professors have risen to the top of the law blogsphere. In honor of those law professors who have contributed to the rich culture of the legal blogsphere, Juris Novus features a heavier balance of law professor blogs.

Juris Novus is updated three times an hour and stores headlines on a history page when you miss a day. Save time and simplify your day with Juris Novus. Thank you for making the legal blogsphere a better place!

May 15, 2005 | Permalink

Dr. Hager and Emergency Contraception

As you probably know by now, Dr. W. David Hager, member of the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, received a not too flattering write-up in The Nation this past week.   The article raises a number of issues about Dr. Hager and his work at the FDA, perhaps most importantly Dr. Hager's explanation (allegedly religious rather than scientific) for his decision to refuse over the counter status for 'Plan B' a form of emergency contraception.  The article is a rather eye-opening read.  NPR ran a story concerning Dr. Hager and noted that Senators Murray and Clinton were asking for further explanation of his Plan B vote.  Effect Measure has further information.  [bm]

May 15, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

New Stem Cell Poll

The Washington Monthly blog reports on a new stem cell poll that shows a number of Republicans are in favor of revising (i.e., they appear to support some funding for stem cell research) President Bush's current policy toward stem cell research.  [bm]

May 14, 2005 | Permalink

Friday, May 13, 2005

Remembering Adam Milani

Milani20005 It is with great sadness that I announce the recent passing of our friend and colleague Adam Milani, Associate Professor, Mercer University School of Law.   He died Wednesday following complications from surgery.  Professor Milani was one of the leading experts on disability law and legal writing.   He was also one of the kindest and most generous human beings that I ever met.  From the Mercer website:

Daisy Hurst Floyd, Dean of the Walter F. George School of Law, said Milani’s death was a tragic loss to the Law School. “Adam will be sorely missed. He brought great wisdom and compassion to his roles of teacher and colleague. His contributions to the fields of disability law and legal writing were nationally recognized, and he will be remembered for those. But, we will also remember Adam for his quiet strength and courage and the fact that he made the Law School community a better place.”

For further information on memorial plans, please see Mercer's website.  To post tributes, please use  [bm]

May 13, 2005 | Permalink

Breast Cancer Therapies Working!

Some good news on this Friday the 13th --- According to an article in the Washington Post, a recent study shows that aggressive breast cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and homones, has worked to reduce the disease's death rate.  The article reports on a study to be released in tomorrow's edition of the Lancet.  It states,

Chemotherapy and hormone treatment have dramatically reduced the death rate from early breast cancer, according to a major international analysis that indicates the often arduous regimens do cure many women.

The latest data from an extensive ongoing project involving 145,000 women with early breast cancer found that chemotherapy and hormone treatment continue to protect many women from dying from the disease for at least 15 years. The protection often gets stronger over time, increasing the likelihood that the therapy is truly eradicating cancer from their bodies.

   *  *  *  *

For most women, it is now standard practice to treat early breast cancer with surgery and radiation, followed by chemotherapy to reduce the risk of a recurrence by attempting to wipe out any cancer cells lurking elsewhere in the body. If their tumors are sensitive to the hormone estrogen, many women also take the estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen for about five years to further reduce the risk of recurrence. (A new generation of hormone therapy has begun to replace tamoxifen.) Although earlier studies have shown that the approach reduced the chances of a relapse and increased the odds of survival, there have been haunting concerns about how long those benefits last inasmuch as breast cancer can hide in the body for years or even decades before reemerging.


May 13, 2005 | Permalink

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Posner on Medical Privacy

Judge Posner weighs in on medical privacy and specifically electronic medical records.  He appears concerned that people will use privacy rights as a means to deny important information to insurance companies.   He states,

Medical records are a case in point. People conceal their medical conditions (sometimes as a means of concealing behaviors that have led to medical conditions), in order to obtain insurance at favorable rates, obtain and retain jobs, obtain spouses, becomes President (in the case of John F. Kennedy, who concealed his long array of serious illnesses), and so forth. These concealments can impose significant costs on the other parties to the transactions.

It is an interesting read.  [bm]

May 12, 2005 | Permalink

Happy 45th Birthday to the Pill!

45 years ago this month the FDA approved the contraceptive pill for use in the United States.  In an interesting post, the Metafilter blog discusses the Eisenstadt v. Baird case and particularly Mr. Baird and his role in championing the rights of women to access the pill.  It is an interesting read.  [bm]

May 12, 2005 | Permalink

"Surgeons' Errors Often Unreported"

That's the headline on a recent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, summarized by the CDC Public Health Law News as follows:

In many states, severe patient-care errors in hospitals may not get investigated quickly by state agencies, and patient advocates are pushing for faster action. In Washington State, for example, when a hospital employee amputates the wrong limb or makes a fatal medication error, the hospital must file a report to the state within two days. But that's where the system comes to a halt. Sometimes, such reports sit in computer databases for years. "It's absolutely not aggressive enough," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Errors are not dealt with in a speedy manner. We would never put up with this if it was an airline crash or train accident," he said. Meanwhile, state health departments are trying to craft policies that increase hospitals' accountability while also avoiding a punitive approach that discourages reporting. State agencies often do not have the resources to vigorously investigate adverse events, or even to inspect hospitals on a reasonably frequent schedule. In Washington, for example, hospitals are inspected only about every 20 to 21 months, and sometimes less frequently. Critics say patient safety regulations for hospitals all across the U.S. are largely archaic. "They've (the regulations) been there a long time and are probably very spottily carried out because there's not a mechanism for enforcement," said Kala Ladenheim, a health policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fewer than half the states even require hospitals to report "adverse events," she said.

And from their Northwest corridor neighbor state comes this report of safety-enforcement laxity from The Oregonian:

As Australia investigates patient deaths linked to former Oregon surgeon Jayant M. Patel, a question echoes half a world away: How could Patel operate here for more than a decade before state officials cited him for "gross or repeated acts of negligence?"

Who's watching what doctors do to patients?

The answer, many health experts say, is that few hospitals or doctors' groups have solid systems to track every surgery and highlight patterns of problems. Although doctors now have amazingly good tools to measure cells and genes, the study of what happens in U.S. operating rooms remains surprisingly unscientific.

It's a sad, sad tale of seemingly glacial oversight and enforcement efforts, and well worth reading for its discussion of the systemic gaps in reporting requirements that make it difficult to weed out the "bad apples," let alone to identify and deal with less obvious bad practices and bad practitioners.  [tm]

May 12, 2005 | Permalink

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

First Published Report of Stem-Cell Therapy for Spinal Cord Injuries

In today's issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from UC-Irvine report (abstract) "that paralyzed rats could walk again after treatment, but only if their injuries were recent.  In the research, conducted by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, rats with week-old injuries responded well to cell transfusions, but those with 10-month-old injuries did not." (Sacramento Bee) [tm]

May 11, 2005 | Permalink

New Defense for Doctors in Florida

This proposed law is not the way that I would recommend solving the so-called medical malpractice crisis.  According to the Daily Business Review:

Just months after the discovery that Florida doctors were treating patients with a dangerous, unapproved botulinum toxin to remove wrinkles, the Legislature has quietly passed a measure that would make it harder to discipline doctors for using unregulated pharmaceutical products.

The bill, spearheaded by state Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, a retired physician, gives doctors facing disciplinary action by the state Department of Health a powerful new defense against any allegation of misusing drugs. Under the bill, doctors can argue to the state that they relied in good faith on the representations of the drug manufacturer or its representatives, and that the doctors had no intent to violate the law.

While the language was crafted as a result of the widely publicized use of unregulated stabilized botulinum toxin, which was distributed by Tucson, Ariz.-based Toxin Research International, the measure is broadly written and could apply to doctors' use of any pharmaceutical product.

Under the bill, doctors would be allowed to use this new defense only in Health Department disciplinary cases, not in criminal or civil malpractice cases. If signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, the bill could thwart attempts by the Health Department to sanction a number of doctors it has accused of using unapproved knockoffs of Botox.

Relying on drug manufacturer or its representatives, particularly its sales people, does not provide me with much sense of quality control -- but perhaps I am being too suspicious.  [bm]

May 11, 2005 | Permalink

Whiskey as Cancer Fighter

Professor Michael Froomkin at has an amusing post on the latest scientific finding that single malt whiskey may help prevent cancer.  It is a fun read!  [bm]

May 11, 2005 | Permalink