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Texas Law Allows Unproven Stem Cell Interventions

June 30, 2017

A Texas bill has been signed into law allowing "clinics and companies. . . to offer people unproven stem cell interventions without the testing and approval required under federal law," according to Science Magazine. The act grants legal status to practices that are already widespread; Leigh Turner, a professor at Consortium member the Center for Bioethics notes, "you could make the argument that — if [the new law] was vigorously enforced— it’s going to put some constraints in place." However, he continues, "it would really be surprising if anybody in Texas is going to wander around the state making sure that businesses are complying with these standards." The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, sanctions a much broader set of therapies than federal rules allow. Read the entire article here

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Consortium Scholar Reveals Potential, Pitfalls of New Ocean Research Technology

June 21, 2017

New observational technologies are greatly complicating oceanographic research, even as they present tantalizing opportunities. Because they are less expensive and more networked than ship-based measurements, remotely operated vehicles like undersea drones and satellites can provide an unprecedented amount of data while democratizing the research process. However, these new tools also challenge existing maritime codes such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. During the 2015-2016 academic year, Geography, Environment and Society PhD candidate Jessica Lehman was awarded a Consortium Research Grant to explore how these new technologies have become entangled in questions of territory, information-sharing, and politics. Lehman notes, “Concerns about global environmental crises such as climate change push scientists to collect more data and make it freely available online, but nations are concerned that these data may compromise their sovereignty, from military operations to fisheries development. To address these concerns, we can’t make assumptions about relationships between security and new technologies; we have to follow them into the world and see what they are actually doing.” Her Consortium-funded research informed her dissertation, which evaluated the interfaces between geopolitics and international oceanographic science. Lehman is currently an AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; to learn more about her research, click here.  

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ELSI Congress Tackles the Big Questions on Genomics and Society

June 9, 2017

Earlier this week, the 4th annual conference of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) Research Program was held in Farmington, CT. This year's focus was the many ways genomics is rapidly becoming a fixture in our lives, from prenatal genetic screening to the genetic testing of women with family histories of breast cancer. Physicians, geneticists, genetic counselors, social scientists and lawyers from academia, government and industry brought new insight and perspectives to debates over new and emerging data. Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, moderated and presented during a session on a new, NHGRI-funded grant entitled "LawSeq: Building a Sound Legal Foundation for Translating Genomics into Clinical Application." The panelists – Gary Marchant (Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University), Amy McGuire (Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas), and Ellen Wright Clayton (School of Law, Vanderbilt University) – are all PIs and collaborators on the grant. The speakers identified areas of agreement and disagreement, and suggest pathways to advance law and policy to support the optimal use of genomics. For more information, visit the ELSI Congress website.

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Barbara Evans

Evans Proposes 21st-century Governance Model for Health Data

May 30, 2017

A new article in the American Journal of Law & Medicine by Consortium collaborator Barbara J. Evans, MS, JD, LLM, expands on ideas she shared at last December's forum, "How Patients Are Creating Medicine's Future." "Barbarians at the Gate: Consumer-Driven Health Data Commons and the Transformation of Citizen Science" draws on past citizen science efforts; empirical research such as the Health Data Exploration Project; guidelines like the Common Rule and HIPAA; and property law. Evans argues that laypeople who work together to assemble datasets could serve research and health care needs better than the current system. She notes: "The aim of consumer-driven data commons is to allow consenting groups of individuals to assemble datasets on a meaningful scale, empowering themselves through collective action to exercise greater control over the fate of their data than individuals can achieve acting alone." Evans also discusses the opportunity presented because "new forms of [personal health data (PHD)], such as data from mobile and wearable sensing devices, are generally not regulated by the Common Rule and HIPAA Privacy Rule. This regulatory gap offers an opportunity to design a new PHD privacy and access models on a blank slate, perhaps avoiding pitfalls of existing regulations." A PDF of the article is available here.

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What Americans Will Really Dislike About 'Trumpcare'

May 8, 2017

An article in the Washington Post co-authored by University of Minnesota health policy professor Sarah Gollust analyzes the bill that passed the US House of Representatives last week. Gollust and her co-researchers conducted a national survey in March asking 1,588 Americans what they knew about the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) and the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA, also known as Trumpcare), whether their views of these programs were favorable or unfavorable, and how completely they understood each. The results? Among those surveyed, even those who were aware of the ACA requirement to purchase insurance or pay a penalty prefer the ACA to the AHCA. Of particular concern regarding the AHCA was its penalty for enrollment gaps, fines that would be paid to insurers. The authors conclude the enrollment gap could be used as an additional line of attack by anti-AHCA activists, noting "the public is already concerned about protections for people with preexisting conditions, huge cuts to the Medicaid program, and citizens losing insurance. Highlighting the AHCA’s coverage-gap penalty could drop public support further."

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Video Available for Lecture on the Past, Present, and Future of the Affordable Care Act

March 27, 2017

Given the drama of the past several weeks, during which Congress wrestled with repealing, replacing or reforming the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it's an opportune time to look at the trajectory of that legislation. On March 23, the seventh anniversary of the ACA's signing, the former General Counsel for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), William B. Schultz, lectured at Harvard Law School in an event sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center. He described what he saw from his front-row seat during five years at HHS, during which time the repeal of ACA was the number one priority of the Republicans in Washington, and it was deeply unpopular across the nation. Mr. Schultz also considered what's likely to happen now that the Republicans have control of all branches of government and the repeal agenda is complicated by the new support for the law by voters and some Republican governors. He concluded with a discussion of health policy options for the future. A video of the lecture and discussion can be viewed here

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Consortium Research Assistants Selected for Minnesota Law Review

February 13, 2017

Both of the legal project assistants (LPAs) currently working with Consortium chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, have received staff appointments for volume 102 of the Minnesota Law Review, an honor indicating high achievement in legal studies. Caroline Bressman was selected as Symposium Articles Editor, and Lauren Clatch is Lead Articles Editor. Ms. Bressman is a graduate of St. Olaf College who clerked at Nichols Kaster last summer. Ms. Clatch graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and interned for Chief Judge John R. Tunheim at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis last summer. Both are assisting Prof. Wolf with research related to the LawSeq grant. Congratulations to these law students on this well-deserved honor! 

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The Ethics of Football: NFL Player Health Policies Examined

February 1, 2017

Just in time for next Sunday's Superbowl game, a new paper published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review explores the legal and ethical aspects of a hypothetical National Football League (NFL) player's health. The authors, who include Consortium collaborator I. Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School, ask "What are the current legal standards for employers collecting and acting on an individual’s health- and performance-related information?" They draw upon disability law, privacy law and other disciplines to provide recommendations to better protect the health and privacy of professional football players. The authors find that "it appears that some of the existing evaluations of players, both at the NFL Scouting Combine (Combine) and once drafted and playing for a club, seem to violate existing federal employment discrimination laws." To correct this, they recommend both adherence to current laws and changes to existing statutory schemes. Read the entire article here

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Drugmakers Use Legislative Strategies to Weaken Opioid Regulation

September 21, 2016

A new, in-depth investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press details the methods by which pharmaceutical companies and their allies weaken and defeat restrictions on opioid access. According to the article, "Deaths linked to addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet had increased more than fourfold since 1999, accounting for more fatal overdoses in 2012 than heroin and cocaine combined." Part one of the two-article series describes "a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs," a strategy executed by "an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists in legislative hubs from 2006 through 2015." Part two focuses on similar efforts at the federal level, outlining how drug lobbies "reinforced their influence with more than $140 million doled out to political campaigns. That combined spending on lobbying and campaigns amounts to more than 200 times the $4 million spent during the same period by the handful of groups that work for restrictions on painkillers. Meanwhile, opioid sales reached $9.6 billion last year." The spike in opioid deaths has led President Obama to declare Sept. 18-24 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week and request $1.1 billion in new funding for treatment programs. 

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Creating an Ethical Framework for Artificial Intelligence

September 6, 2016

A new group in the high-tech industry is laying the groundwork for the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI). An article in the New York Times notes, "While science fiction has focused on the existential threat of A.I. to humans, researchers at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and those from Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft have been meeting to discuss more tangible issues, such as the impact of A.I. on jobs, transportation and even warfare." The group is trying to get ahead of government regulation, in hopes self-policing will minimize the need for formal legal or statutory measures. One of the tools they're using is a report out of Stanford University, One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, which reassuringly states "Contrary to the more fantastic predictions for AI in the popular press, the Study Panel found no cause for concern that AI is an imminent threat to humankind." 

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Law School Dean Garry Jenkins

New Dean Wants to Reclaim Leadership for Lawyers

August 22, 2016

In an interview in Minnesota Lawyer, the new dean of the University of Minnesota Law School, Garry Jenkins, acknowledges he needs to spend time listening and getting to know students, faculty, and administrators. Having only been in Minnesota for two weeks, a learning curve is inevitable. However, Jenkins brings a rich and diverse background to the job, having worked as an attorney with the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, as chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, and most recently, as associate dean for academic affairs at Ohio State University's law school. His breadth of experience will serve him well as he manages changes in legal education and launches new academic programs. Beyond those core areas, Dean Jenkins has another item on his agenda: teaching lawyers leadership skills. According to Jenkins, "We all have the capacity to be leaders and I would love to see the graduates of the state’s flagship law school be a critically important source of leadership in this country. . . . It’s a field that we have ceded to business schools and to me that never felt right." Read the entire interview here.

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The Hidden Social Costs of an Unequal Military

August 19, 2016

A new paper by Douglas L. Kriner of Boston University and Francis X. Shen, a Consortium affilate faculty member and professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, takes an empirical look at the results of socioeconomic disparities in military service. In "Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice," the authors analyze large existing data sets, including 500,000 American combat casualties over the past 70 years, which reveal that "today, unlike in World War II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country." The authors also conducted original surveys of public opinion "to uncover a variety of social, legal, and political consequences of this inequality" and why it is "routinely overlooked by scholars, policymakers, and the public." Read a PDF of the article here.

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Law Dean Garry Jenkins

Law School Welcomes New Dean

August 1, 2016

Garry W. Jenkins has begun his tenure as Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Law, becoming the 11th person to hold that position. Dean Jenkins previously served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, where he was also director of the Program on Law and Leadership, an initiative that he co-founded. Prior to entering academia, Dean Jenkins was chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, a $200 million-plus international corporate foundation. He earned his JD from Harvard University, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and went on to clerk for Judge Timothy Lewis on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Dean Jenkins also earned an MPP from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his BA from Haverford College. He replaces David Wippman, the previous dean, who left the Law School to assume the presidency of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. 

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Disability and End-of-life Medical Options

July 26, 2016

In an editorial in today's MinnPost, Bobbi Jacobsen, who has lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 20 years, commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 26 years ago today by calling upon "the leaders of major disability organizations. . . to recognize that we want to be empowered in our end-of-life medical options, too." The article was written to raise awareness and support for Minnesota's Compassionate Care Act, which is modeled on an Oregon law that permits aid in dying but not assisted suicide. Jacobsen notes that the former only applies to terminally ill people: "Medical aid in dying applies to people who want more than anything to live, but a deadly disease is ending their lives." The bill was introduced in the Minnesota state legislature during the last session and was heard by the Senate Health Committee. It was withdrawn before a vote was taken, but is expected to be introduced again during the next session, which begins in January, 2017. 

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Cesar DeLeon

Force Feeding of Inmate Can Go Forward, Judge Rules

July 15, 2016

A request by Cesar DeLeon to discontinue force feeding has been denied by Circuit Court Judge Steven Bauer. DeLeon is one of several Wisconsin prisoners who began a hunger strike in early June to protest long-term solitary confinement, which in the case of one of the strikers has lasted more than 25 years. In his suit, DeLeon cited free-speech and religious grounds and accused a prison guard of withholding water during the force feeding procedure, which is necessary to avoid food and liquids being aspirated. Prof. Steven Miles, MD, of Consortium member the Center for Bioethics was interviewed for an article by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Miles notes that "force feeding of prisoners is condemned by most major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The World Medical Association has declared that 'the forced feeding of hunger strikers is unethical and is never justified,' calling the practice 'inhuman and degrading.'” Miles asserts that "prisoners’ refusal to eat should not be viewed in medical terms alone, saying 'A hunger strike is fundamentally a form of political expression by persons or groups which have exhausted other forms of political expression.'" 

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Obama Lays Out Next Steps for the Affordable Care Act in JAMA

July 12, 2016

In an article that "is apparently the first by a sitting president to be published by the [Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)]" according to NPR, Barack Obama, JD, reviews the effects the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had since it was passed in 2010. He notes, "Since the Affordable Care Act became law, the uninsured rate has declined by 43%, from 16.0% in 2010 to 9.1% in 2015, primarily because of the law’s reforms." The article goes on to describe remaining "major opportunities to improve the health care system," including offering a government-run insurance plan, the so-called public option, as part of the ACA. While Obama advocates for Congress to revisit the idea of "a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited," the public option has been controversial thus far and was dropped from the health law prior to its passage because of fears it represented a step toward fully government-run system.

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Use of Robot to Kill Dallas Shooter Raises Legal, Ethical Questions

July 11, 2016

Last week, a robot was used to kill the attacker who fatally shot five police officers and injured seven others during a peaceful protest rally in Dallas. After a multi-hour standoff, Dallas police jury-rigged a robot originally designed to disarm bombs by attaching an explosive device and remotely detonating it near the gunman. This is the first known incident of a robot being used to kill a suspect in the history of American policing. An article on Motherboard analyzes the relevant legal and ethical principles; according to tech attorney Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union, “Because ground robots may allow deadly force to be applied more safely and easily, they raise the danger that they will be overused. . . . Remote uses of force raise policy issues that should be carefully considered and addressed by our society as technology advances." Ian Kerr of the University of Ottawa raises another important point: "Once you send a robot in, compared to a human, you’re no longer thinking about it as a human process of negotiation. A human can think — is this guy going to lay down arms or not? [A robot can only be used] once they’ve decided the situation is far past the point of negotiation.” Read the entire article here

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LawSeqSM to Clarify Consent, Standards, Liability in Genomic Medicine

July 6, 2016

An article in GenomeWeb provides a comprehensive overview of the LawSeqSM project, a 3-year, $2 million grant recently awarded to Consortium chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, and two co-PIs, Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD (Vanderbilt) and Frances Lawrenz, PhD (University of Minnesota). The methodology will be a "combined approach involving empirical work, analytic research, and negotiation to reach consensus" within the national working group; the effort will also be informed by prior research in the field of genomic medicine by both Wolf and Clayton. The resulting guidelines will inform case law, fill gaps in current regulations and shape those developed in the future. Another important outcome will be "a public-facing website that simply describes in detail the current state of the law in relation to genomics and genome sequencing." 

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