Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, December 6, 2019

Biogen’s Experimental Drug to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease is Greeted with Cautious Optimism Following Scientific Presentation on Thursday

PillsPharmaceutical maker Biogen provided the scientific community a detailed presentation at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in San Diego about an experimental drug that appears to slow the brain’s deterioration in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, aducanumab, may be the first significant advancement in the treatment of the disease since the introduction of memantine, which is commonly marketed as Namenda in 2003 and relieves some of the symptoms of dementia.

R. Scott Turner, director of Georgetown University’s Memory Disorders Program, a partner in the study, said “This study proves that we are on the right track to developing more effective, disease-modifying treatments designed to stop or slow memory decline in the earliest disease stage — when patients are still relatively independent in their daily functions.” The company says they hope to seek FDA approval next year, and if Biogen succeeds, it will be the first drug to treat the underlying pathology of the dementia-causing disease.

The medication assists patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to continue independently going about their daily business longer than people who did not take it, even slowing down the condition's progression by as much as 40%. Not all of the professionals that witnessed the presentation were sold on the medication, but many saw this as a positive for the Alzheimer's treatment community.

See Fredrick Kunkle, Biogen’s Experimental Drug to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease is Greeted with Cautious Optimism Following Scientific Presentation on Thursday, Washington Post, December 5, 2019.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 6, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Kansas Considers ‘Greener’ New Way to Bury its Dead

TreeA Swedish company called Promessa is focusing on Kansas to present a new form of disposing of human remains to the United States because of the state's relatively lax cremation laws, especially since the state does not require a fire in the cremation process. The procedure, promession, consists of freezing the body with liquid nitrogen and then "vibrating it into particles." Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, the biologist who founded the company, said in an interview that promession is cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Kansas' attorney general, Derek Schmidt, released an opinion shortly before Thanksgiving that the decision to allow the procedure within the state should be made by the Kansas Board of Mortuary Arts. Last May, Washington became the first state to allow the composting of human bodies in which the body is broken down into soil that the family or loved ones are allowed to keep or spread where ever they choose.

See Edmund DeMarche, Kansas Considers ‘Greener’ New Way to Bury its Dead, Fox News, December 2, 2019.

December 3, 2019 in Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Here’s a Way You Can Help Fight Alzheimer’s

AlzMicrosoft founder Bill Gates has become a prevalent advocate for Alzheimer's Disease in recent years, and believes that finding enough volunteers to participate in medical studies that will help us understand the disease better is a compounding problem. As the population ages, more and more individuals are suffering from this terrible condition. Nearly 6 million Americans are living with the disease today, and it is estimated that by 2050, the number could be as high as 14 million.

No new drug for Alzheimer's has been presented in over 15 years, in part due to the fact that clinical studies for the disease run 4 to 8 years compared to 1.5 years with studies for cardiovascular diseases. After the expensive process of diagnosing Alzheimer's, it is still difficult for a potential patient to enter into a clinical trial. 1 out of 10 people screened for certain types of Alzheimer’s trials will actually qualify, and 80% of do not meet their recruitment goals on time. So how can these issues be resolved?

  • Increase awareness of Alzheimer’s disease so patients start seeking help earlier in the disease’s progression.
  • Develop better diagnostics so that doctors can detect the disease sooner and help people enroll in the right clinical trials, including blood tests.
  • Raise awareness of—and  hopefully openness to—clinical trials among doctors and patients alike.

See Bill Gates, Here’s a Way You Can Help Fight Alzheimer’s, Gates Notes, November 5, 2019.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

November 11, 2019 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein's Autopsy More Consistent with Homicidal Strangulation than Suicide, Doctor Says

EpsteinDr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who has worked on high-profile cases during a five-decade medical career including Aaron Hernandez and Martin Luther King Jr., has said that disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein's autopsy is consistent with homicide. The forensic pathologic made the announcement during an interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday.

Baden was hired by Epstein's brother after it was officially determined that Epstein had killed himself in his jail cell. The doctor noted that the 66-year-old Epstein had two fractures on the left and right sides of his larynx, specifically the thyroid cartilage or Adam’s apple, as well as one fracture on the left hyoid bone above the Adam’s apple. He said those fractures are "extremely unusual in suicidal hangings" but "much more common in homicidal strangulations." He said during his 50 year career he has never seen those fractures personally in a suicidal hanging.

Baden's results are not conclusive, however, he also added that Epstein had hemorrhages in his eyes that were common in homicidal strangulation and uncommon, though not unheard of, in suicidal hangings. He also said the ligature, or the instrument used to strangle or hang a person, should be tested to see if there is any other person's DNA on it.

New York City Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson ruled Epstein’s cause of death to be a suicide by hanging and is standing by her findings.

See Melissa Leon, Jeffrey Epstein's Autopsy More Consistent with Homicidal Strangulation than Suicide, Dr. Michael Baden Reveals, Fox News, October 30, 2019.

October 30, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Man gets ‘DNR’ Tattoo to Prevent Coming ‘Back as Vegetable’ in Case of Emergency

DNRNigel Thwaites, of Norfolk, England, is a 52-old-man that is healthy and has not faced a recent medical emergency. But after viewing a video that shows what can occur to a body after CPR, he decided to preemptively tattoo DNR (do not resuscitate) on his chest.

Thwaites said that the video showed what can happen if someone does not perform CPR correctly, and "that the brain becomes starved of oxygen which causes a loss of faculties in that person." He also is a registered organ donor, has a living will, and his blood type is also tattooed on his shoulder. Because a DNR tattoo creates legal and ethical issues for doctors in both the US and UK, the fact that Thwaites also has a living will is important to his choice.

Honoring the tattoo alone without a witness signature and patient signature could cause a doctor to lose his medical license, or be sued by the patient’s family or estate.

See Alexandra Hein, Man gets ‘DNR’ Tattoo to Prevent Coming ‘Back as Vegetable’ in Case of Emergency, Fox News, October 11, 2019.

October 13, 2019 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

After Discovering he has at Least 17 kids, Man Sues Fertility Clinic

IVFDr. Bryce Cleary agreed to donate sperm while he was a student at Oregon Health & Science University after the clinic solicited him and fellow medical students for donations, even offering $40. But he said he did so under the acknowledgement that the clinic would not use it to create more than five children. 

But the doctor has now sued the University for $5.25 million after learning that his sperm was used to for more than 17 children, two of which have gone to the same schools and social events as the children he has with his wife. Dr. Cleary says he only began to learn of his numerous biological offspring in March of last year, when two of his biological daughters contacted him. The two women said they were able to identify him with the help of Ancestry.com as well as “specific and substantive information” from the clinic, according to the lawsuit. He then sent his DNA to the site and found that he was the father of 15 more children, three of which live in his home state of Oregon.

One of the woman that first reached out to Dr. Cleary, 25-year-old Allyson Allee, says that “It feels like OHSU really didn’t take into consideration the fact that they were creating humans. They were reckless with this, and it feels like it was just money and numbers to them."

See Beth Mole, After Discovering he has at Least 17 kids, Man Sues Fertility Clinic, Ars Technica, October 3, 2019.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 6, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Article on The Kindest (Tax) Cut: A Federal Tax Credit for Organ Donations

OrgandonationSally Satel & Alan D. Viard published an Article entitled, The Kindest (Tax) Cut: A Federal Tax Credit for Organ Donations, Tax Law: Tax Law & Policy eJournal (2017). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

We discuss how to design a federal tax credit for organ donations that would help ease the pressing shortage of donated kidneys, saving thousands of lives and sparing many from dialysis.

October 2, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Longevity Files: A Strong Grip? Push-ups? What Actually can Help You Live to a Ripe Old Age

ExerciseThere are certain physical feats that can increase your chances of living a long life, including being able to perform 50 pushups, going from sitting on the floor to standing without the use of your hands, having an overall firm grip, or increasing your walking speed. But each of these skills have the message in the end: strength, nimbleness, and overall health.

Generally, fit people can walk faster, perform more pushups, and easily stand up from sitting cross-legged on the floor compared to a frail person. “There’s no question that exercise is the biggest anti-aging medicine there’s ever going to be — it’s really huge,” Gordon Lithgow says, chief academic officer at Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Michael Joyner, a physician and human physiology researcher at the Mayo Clinic, states that even just 10 to 15 minutes of exercise per day can be beneficial. The measurable benefits plateau after a person reaches an hour a day, meaning if they are exercising for longer than 60 minutes they are doing it for another reason other than longevity.

And exercise keeps your brain healthy, too. “Exercise has better effects on cognitive performance than sitting around playing brain games,” Stanford Center on Longevity founding director Laura L. Carstensen says. A 2006 study in Neuroscience found that exercise spurs the brain to release growth factors that promote new connections between neurons, contributing to the brain's health. There is even research suggesting that strength training can reverse some age-related changes in your muscles.

See Christie Aschwanden, The Longevity Files: A Strong Grip? Push-ups? What Actually can Help You Live to a Ripe Old Age, Washington Post, September 28, 2019.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 2, 2019 in Current Affairs, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Article on Children of Assisted Reproduction vs. Old Dynasty Trusts: A New Approach

IVFKristine S. Knaplund recently published an Article entitled, Children of Assisted Reproduction vs. Old Dynasty Trusts: A New Approach, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

Today, thousands of children are born each year using assisted reproduction technology (ART), including assisted insemination, in vitro fertilization, and gestational carriers, and the numbers continue to rise. Many of these children are not genetically related to one or both of their parents because donated gametes are used; in cases where a gestational carrier gives birth, the intended parents may adopt the child even if they are the genetic parents. Some of these ART children may find themselves clashing head on with old dynasty trusts that presume that adoptees are excluded from class terms such as “issue,” “descendants” or “grandchildren,” and require all beneficiaries to be related by blood to the settlor. Two recent cases, McGehee v. Edwards, 268 Va. 15 (2004) and Matter of Doe, 7 Misc. 3d 352 (N.Y. 2005) have raised this issue, but we are likely to see many more in the next few years.

Will courts treat ART children just as they have treated adopted children, parsing the difference between “issue,” “lineal descendants,” “heirs of the body,” “heirs,” and other class terms; debating whether the writer’s intent or public policy should prevail; and raising questions about whether a change in the common law presumption may or should be applied retroactively? Or should an entirely different approach be used, one that allows us to avoid extensive litigation, the invasion of privacy that extensive DNA testing would produce, and the inevitable stigmatization of children of same-sex couples who can’t be biologically related to both people raising them? This article examines the language of 74 old wills and trusts, ones that are already up and running and cannot be amended, to see if there is a better way to deal with ART children. Can the trustee use doctrines such as decanting to solve this dilemma? Can courts be persuaded to broaden their approach so that trustees or executors can accurately predict what these terms mean, and not flood the courts with requests for instructions? I will propose solutions that might just do that.

September 30, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Woman’s AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret

CordbloodWhen Holly Becker was in her twenties, she was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by undergoing an umbilical-cord-blood transplant. For ethical reasons, donations from infant umbilical-cord blood have been strictly anonymous for almost 30 years. But Becker, using the mail-in DNA test provided by AncestryDNA, discovered that the cells of the donor from two decades are still within her when her results exactly matched those of a young man in New York, and she was able to meet him.

After numerous rounds of chemo that ultimately failed, Becker was near death when her doctor suggested the then-novel procedure of transplanting cord blood from a stranger. Doctors would destroy Becker’s own cancerous cells before infusing her with hematopoietic stem cells - which are plentiful in cord blood - from a healthy matched donor. Those cells would eventually divide to replace all the blood in her, and Becker did not recover entirely from the grueling procedure for two years. But she stayed healthy, and she always wondered whose blood saved her life.

Becker was not trying to find the anonymous donor when she used the DNA kit. She was just curious about her family history. But she matched to her donor's mother, Dania Davey, as if she was indeed was Davey's daughter. They both thought it was mistake by the company. After some research and another patient of Becker's oncologist getting odd results from AncestryDNA, they discovered the truth. The DNA in saliva, it turns out, can come from white blood cells (which should have the donor’s DNA) that guard against bacteria in the mouth. In fact, many mail-in DNA test companies advice against patients that have undergone bone-marrow or cord-blood transplants against taking their tests, as the mix of genetic material can cause them to fail. Or, the test could pinpoint the donor's DNA.

To prove their hypothesis, Davey's 25-year-old son, Patrick, took a test. And he matched the original records for Becker’s anonymous donor, and Dania had in fact donated his cord blood when he was an infant. For more than two decades, Becker had carried Patrick's DNA inside of her.

See Sarah Zhang, A Woman’s AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret, The Atlantic, September 13, 2019.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 16, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)