HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, April 9, 2005

EPA Pesticide Testing

Now perhaps there has been a misrepresentation concerning the details of this study,because it sounds terrible.  The EPA study's purpose was to examine the effects of pesticides on children.  According to the LATimes,

A controversial program to pay parents to document the effects of pesticide exposure on their children was canceled Friday by the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency (Stephen L. Johnson) , whose confirmation to the post had been jeopardized by the study. . . .

The program, which had been suspended by EPA officials late last year, would have paid low-income families in Florida $970 if they agreed to record evidence — including videotaping — on how pesticides used in their homes affected their children. . . .

The EPA started accepting applications for the program last year and said the study would not pose additional risks because it would only accept families already using pesticides.

But the agency suspended the study in November after outcries from various groups, including the Alliance for Human Research Protection in New York. The project came under more criticism when it was disclosed that the American Chemistry Council had paid $2 million toward the $9-million study.

I used to teach summer school to fairly young children and once had a child come to class who had been sprayed with Raid by his mother because he had lice.  So, while I do realize that we need to know more about these pesticides, and we need to educate families about their potential harms,  this now-canceled study does not appear convincing as a means to achieve these goals.  On an academic note (I hope this does not sound too crass), the canceled study may provide a helpful example in a course discussing the protection of human subjects.  [bm]

April 9, 2005 | Permalink

Rankings Conference

I wanted to alert you an interesting conference that two of my colleagues Professor Paul Caron and Professor Raphel Gely will be participating in next week.  The conference is entitled, Symposium on the Next Generation of Law School Rankings, and concerns the U.S. News and World Report rankings and what we can do to help education U.S. News and others about some of the criteria that seems to be missing from the current evaluation of law schools.  For an overview of the conference and the various presentations, click here.  For law librarian blog provides further information and a link to some of the papers which will be presented.  [bm]

April 9, 2005 | Permalink

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Friday Funny

The Onion's "what do you think" column this week examines public reaction to news that many cancers are preventable.  It is unfortunate to our nation's public health that some of the fake responses sound true.[bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Embryo and Human

Adding to the stem cell research debate (which for some reason seems to be everywhere in the news recently) The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great article entitled,"The Thoughtful Distinction Between Embryo and Human" by Professor Michael S. Gazzaniga, who is a professor of cognitive neuroscience and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. This essay is adapted from his upcoming book The Ethical Brain, to be published Dana Press later this month.  He asserts,

Clearly, I believe that a fertilized egg, a clump of cells with no brain, is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult. Mere possession of the genetic material for a future human being does not make a human being. The developing embryo that becomes a fetus that becomes a baby is the product of a dynamic interaction with its environment in the womb, its postnatal experiences, and a host of other factors. A purely genetic description of the human species does not describe a human being. A human being represents a whole other level of organization, as distinct from a simple embryo as an embryo is distinct from an egg and sperm. It is the dynamics between genes and environment that make a human being. Indeed, most of us are willing to grant this special status to a developing entity long before it is born, but surely not before the entity even has a brain.

Fixing the beginning of life is a tricky issue that, like most, if not all, neuroethical issues, should depend on the context. There is not a single answer. My life and your life began at conception. But when my life began and when life begins are different questions. A 14-day-old embryo created for research is not, and should not be granted the moral status of, a human being. Embryos are not individuals. As a father, I may react to a sonogram image of a nine-week-old embryo and see a future child; as a neuroscientist, I know that that creature cannot survive outside the womb for another 14 weeks. In neuroethics, context is everything. And it is our brains that allow us to analyze, reason, form theories, and adapt to all contexts.

Thanks to Joe Hodnicki for this cite.  Joe is the blog editor of Law Librarian Blog, which I described before, much to his chagrin, as a fun blog.  I would be remiss if  I also did not mention that it is extremely informative and well-written blog.  You will definitely not miss out on the latest debates over the regulation of electronic media, an examination of some of most recent legal publications, the latest legal academic job opportunities, conferences and important news.  [bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Egg Donor Rights

Columnist Ellen Goodman had an interesting article yesterday on egg donors and how they have become part of the debate over stem cell research.  She states,

The history of women who have undergone IVF over two decades suggests that it's a pretty safe procedure. But there may be short-term risks from overstimulating the ovaries, and there may be long-term risks as well from hormones. So far, these too seem pretty low, but history has left us properly wary.

This wariness has led a number of activists in the women's health community to raise a cautionary flag. Judy Norsigian, known to generations raised on her co-authored "Our Bodies, Ourselves," has written that we should "postpone embryo cloning research with human eggs until better data make true informed consent possible."

She and others raised their concerns in Massachusetts where the Legislature just approved a bill promoting stem cell research. Meanwhile in California, Deborah Ortiz, a state senator who supported Proposition 71 for state-funded research, has asked for a three-year moratorium on multiple egg harvesting.

Ms. Goodman then examines a different question: 

Can women make these decisions themselves?    

We allow men and women to donate kidneys or portions of their liver. People participate in all sorts of research. Is there something inherently different between allowing a woman to take the risk of childbirth and allowing her to take the much smaller risk of donating eggs that may eventually cure her child's diabetes? I don't think so.

The article raised some new issues for me and caused me to think in new ways about the stem cell research debate.  [bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Preventing Dementia

Reuters reports that an Australian professor, Perry Bartlett, has new research revealing that "mental and physical exercise helped create and nurture new nerve cells in the brain, keeping it functional and warding off diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's".  Professor Barlett said that a chemical called prolactin appeared to promote the growth of new cells in the brain and that there were a number of ways to increase that chemical in the body.   Among his recommendations were sexual activity, cryptic crosswords and a good run.   Mmmm, I am at a loss as to how most Americans will respond to this study but something tells me that there will not be a huge increase in the sale of crossword puzzle books or running shoes; and perhaps one can foresee some future issues for those fans of   abstinence only sex education.  [bm]



April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Stem Cell Policy Under Review

According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Elias A. Zerhouni as well as other top NIH scientists have signaled that a change in stem cell research policy, a change that would permit federal funding for the use of some of the embryos currently slated for destruction at fertility clinics,  would "benefit science."  As both articles note, although scientists and some congressional Republicans, appear to be in agreement concerning the need for more stem cells, it is unclear whether the President will approve any change in policy.  [bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Pharmacy Conscience Clauses

The LATimes ran an editorial yesterday discussing the positive aspects of pharmacy conscience clauses.  The editorial generated lots of responses.  The blog, Body and Soul, has a critique of the editorial and a different perspective on the issue as well as links to some of other discussions about the editorial and this issue in general. [bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

ADA and Sovereign Immunity

Interested in section 5 litigation, or do you happen to work at a state univeresity -- well this case might help brighten your day.  The Eleventh Circuit held that Title II is valid Section 5 legislation "as applied to access to public education" (in a higher-education case). 

The court's opinion in Association for Disabled Americans v. Florida International Univ. appears at and 2005 WL 768129. The case involves claims made by disabled students alleging wrongfully denied reasonable accommodations such as auxilliary aids and services.  The Eleventh Circuit read Tennessee v. Lane broadly. The plaintifffs sought only injunctive relief. [bm]

April 7, 2005 | Permalink

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Viagra and Blindness

You knew the good times had to end -- the BBC reports on a University of Minnesota Medical School study that links use of viagra to vision loss.  According to the BBC report,

[Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School] writing in the Journal of Neuro-ophthalmology,said it brought the total number of reported cases to 14. But Pfizer, the makers of the drug which has been used by more than 20m men since its launch in 1998, said the cases were a coincidence. The seven men, aged between 50 and 69 years old, had all suffered from a swelling of the optic nerve within 36 hours of taking Viagra for erectile dysfunction.

I wonder whether information about potential vision loss was available to Pfizer when it requested FDA approval of its drug.  [bm

April 6, 2005 | Permalink

Brain Injuries: Described and Explained

The New York Times had a good article yesterday in which the author laid out the differences among coma, PVS, and minimally conscious state.  This would be a good class handout in any course that covers end-of-life decision making.  [tm]

April 6, 2005 | Permalink

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Pulitzer Prizes for Health Reporting

Health care, writ broadly, featured prominently in the Pulitzer Prizes announced yesterday.  I am grateful to the "World Health News" feature of the Harvard School of Public Health for noting these connections:

While I'm at it, I should also offer my congratulations to Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, whose "Delights and Shadows" (Copper Canyon Press) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry yesterday.  (If you get it, tell me what you think of "Garage Sale." I think it's remarkable.)  This is a modest collection by a poet of immodest talent, the first Poet Laureate from the Great Plains states, and the only P.L. to win the Pulitzer during his tenure as Poet Laureate.  I will be reviewing his "Poetry Home Repair Manual" for the Dallas Morning News later this month.

Update (April 6): Kooser is the third Poet Laureate to win the Pulitzer during his term. The other two Poet Laureates (at the time called the "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress") were Robert Lowell (in 1947) and Karl Shapiro (1946).   [tm]

April 5, 2005 | Permalink

National Council on Disability Announces New Listserv

Last Monday (yes, I am still recovering from Terri Schiavo overload and continuing to catch-up on the news that I missed) the National Council on Disability (NCD) launched a new listserv that provides information on a variety of issues that affect disabled individuals.  The listserv will also provide a monthly newsletter known as the NCD Bulletin, news releases, legislative updates, and other newsworthy items.  From the NCD website, how to subscribe: 

To subscribe to the NCD’s listserv, send the following command: SUBSCRIBE NCD-NEWS-L (FIRSTNAME LASTNAME) to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.ACCESS.GPO.GOV or go to Click on Online mailing list archives, then select NCD-NEWS-L and click on Join or leave the list. Then complete the short subscription form.

The NCD website is an excellent source of information on issues concerning individuals with disabilities and I am sure that this listserv will also provide valuable and timely information as well.  [bm]

April 5, 2005 | Permalink

New Article on Medical Malpractice Claims

Professors Bernand Black (University of Texas), Charles Silver (University of Texas), David Hyman (University of Illinois) and William Sage (Columbia University), have written an article entitled, "Stability, Not Crisis: Medical Malpractice Claim Outcomes in Texas, 1988-2002," that reviews medical malpractice cases to determine whether a crisis exists in our tort system with regard to such claims.  They conclude that no such crisis exists and that data reflects insurance market dynamicsm rather than litigation dynamics.  It is a well-written and extensively researched piece.  I hope that policy makers take note before they adopt new tort reform legislation.

The abstract follows:

Using a comprehensive database of closed claims maintained by the Texas Department of Insurance since 1988, this study provides evidence on a range of issues involving medical malpractice litigation, including claim frequency, payout frequency, payment amounts, defense costs, and jury verdicts. The data present a picture of stability in most respects and moderate change in others. We do not find evidence in claim outcomes of the medical malpractice insurance crisis that produced headlines over the last several years and led to legal reform in Texas and other states. At least in Texas, the rapid rise in insurance premiums that sparked the crisis may reflect, in significant part, insurance market dynamics rather than changes in claim outcomes.

Controlling for population growth, the number of large paid claims (over $25,000 in real 1988 dollars) was roughly constant from 1990-2002. The number of smaller paid claims declined. Controlling for inflation, payout per large paid claim increased over 1988-2002 by an estimated 0.1% (insignificant) - 0.5% (marginally significant) per year, depending on the dataset we use to define "medical malpractice" claims. Jury awards increased by an estimated 2.5% (insignificant) - 3.6% (barely significant) per year, depending on the dataset, but actual post-verdict payouts in tried cases showed little or no time trend. Real defense costs per large paid claim rose by 4.2-4.5% per year. Real total cost per large paid claim, including defense costs, rose by 0.8-1.2% per year.

The Washington Monthly has further information about how the report is playing in Texas and a rejoinder to those who are disputing the data. [bm]

April 5, 2005 | Permalink

Monday, April 4, 2005

The Tehran Statement on Bioethics has published "The Tehran Statement on Bioethics," the result of "three days of intensive debate, open dialogue and exchange of ideas in the field of bioethics" with the full participation, if not under the auspices of, UNESCO . . . worth checking out if you're keeping track of international developments, but otherwise a somewhat bland statement (imho).  [tm]

April 4, 2005 | Permalink

Supreme Court Denies Cert. in Abortion Case

Update:  Last Monday, the Supreme Court declined to review Wasden v. Planned Parenthood of Idaho (04-703), a state appeal challenging the Ninth Circuit's decision finding Idaho's parental consent law for minors seeking abortions unconstitutional. The Idaho law at issue required girls under the age of 18 to get parental consent for abortions except in the case of a sudden and unexpected medical emergency.  The question on appeal was whether the law was unduly burdensome on young women by restricting abortions without consent to these "sudden and unexpected" circumstances.  The Supreme Court let stand the Ninth Circuit decision striking down the law as unduly burdensome. 

April 4, 2005 | Permalink

Veterans and Mental Health

The New England Journal of Medicine has an interesting article, entitled "Veterans' Mental Health in  the Wake of War," by Dr. Matthew Friedman.  The article discusses the similarities of this war experience for veterans as compared to those veterans of other wars, but also notes,

Members of the National Guard and military reservists constitute a large proportion of the persons deployed in Iraq. Unlike their active-duty counterparts, they are civilians who are not steeped in military culture, do not live on military bases, did not volunteer for full-time service, and had not expected to be tapped for protracted and dangerous duty in a war zone. In addition to causing adverse reactions to the traumatic stress of war, deployment can disrupt marriages and family and work life, sometimes with serious consequences. Such disruption may partially explain why National Guard and Reserve personnel involved in the Gulf War exhibited more postdeployment psychiatric problems than did active-duty troops. [footnote deleted]  Mental health services must be accessible for this population. 

The article is an interesting read and provides a good overview of the increased recognition of the need for veterans mental health services.  It further recognizes the different populations that form that current military and the fact that mental health services for these populations will have to take these differences into account. [bm]

April 4, 2005 | Permalink

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Daylight Savings Time - Be Careful Out There

As you are no doubt well aware, daylight savings time started early this morning.   A segment on the CBS Early Show noted the danger from sleepy drivers on the Monday morning after the start of  daylight savings time.  According to the segment, many Americans, already suffering from lack of sleep, have some difficulty adjusting to this one hour time change.  So, you should be extra vigilant tomorrow morning when driving to your workplace.  [bm]

April 3, 2005 | Permalink

Pharmacy Law Continued

The New York Times has an editorial today on the pharmacy conscience clause laws and the Illinois Governor's response.  The Times has a further interesting observation about the impact of the refusal of pharmacists to fill certain prescription drugs.  It states that, ''Indeed, pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills are inadvertently strengthening the case for providing them as nonprescription medicines on the open shelves. Such availability would allow women to get the pills promptly without going first to a doctor and then to a potentially obstructionist pharmacist.'"

For a humorous public opinion survey on the morning-after pill and its availability over-the-counter, see The Onion.  [bm]

April 3, 2005 | Permalink