Monday, November 15, 2004

HealthLawBlog has moved.

Back from vacation, I've decided to migrate my blog over to This is part of Prof. Paul Caron's ambitious multi-subject blog project for law professors (and all others who are looking for quick updates on breaking stories in the health law field). I am hoping for more exposure over there, and I also welcome the help I will get from co-blogger

Sunday, October 31, 2004

HealthLawBlog is on vacation.

While I am on vacation in New England (Nov. 4-14), I will not be posting to HealthLawBlog.

Back to the future?

The NY Times has a piece today on Kaiser Permanente, the pioneer among HMOs, suggesting that much that ails the U.S. health care system could be improved if we could learn from Kaiser:
Obviously, there is no single model for revamping the nation's costly,
disjointed health care system, and Kaiser certainly has its share of problems.
But according to economists and medical experts, Kaiser is a

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Medicines Without Borders.

Nice play on words (the French name of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical group, Doctors Without Borders is Les Médecins Sans Frontières) for a totally stunning op-ed piece by a physician/marketing director for Pfizer, Peter Rost:
I am a drug company executive who believes we should legalize the reimportation of prescription drugs. I know that I have a different opinion from that of my

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Jesse Koochin update.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the court battle over Jesse Koochin's care ended on the 27th with the hospital's promise that it wouldn't file a death certificate on the 6-year-old, whom two neurologists examined and declared to be dead according the neurological criteria on October 11th and 12th. That clears the way for insurance payments for the home ventilator support that presumably would

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ethics panel for CDC: a first.

As reported today in The New York Times, the CDC has appointed an ethics panel to decide which groups should be given priority in the allocation of scarce supplies of flu vaccine:
The panel began deliberating Monday. One member, John D. Arras, a professor of bioethics at the University of Virginia, said the group might eventually tackle the question of whether babies should have priority over the

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Physician-hospital joint venture: commentary on IRS' PLR

On June 9, the IRS issued Private Letter Ruling 200436002, which generally approved of a proposed physician-hospital joint venture. The ruling is described and analyzed by Don Stuart in a commentary in the Oct. 18 on-line issue of HealthLeaders. Stuart's description of the deal is more succinct than the Service's:
[A] nonprofit, tax-exempt hospital proposed to form a new joint venture

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Pain control and the criminal law.

The New York Times has an essay by Sally Satel, M.D., in today's issue: "Doctors Behind Bars: Treating Pain Is Now Risky Business." Actually, it's been a legally perilous business for many years, although I thought that the adoption of intractable-pain legislation and regulations in many states signaled the arrival of some regulatory and prosecutorial sanity on the subject. This essay is some

Monday, October 18, 2004

Update on brain-dead patient in Salt Lake City.

Today's Salt Lake Tribune has a story about Jesse Koochin, who was transferred from the hospital to home hospice at the end of last week. The parents report that he is moving his feet and are encouraged by their ability to feel his pulse and to see that his cheek is pink and warm to the touch. All of this, of course, is consistent with a determination of death according to neurological criteria

States cut more services for illegal aliens.

The Wall Street Journal has a front-page story in today's edition (requires subscription) detailing Colorado's recent cut-backs in state-sponsored health care benefits available to illegal aliens. Colorado has "cut off prenatal care for thousands of illegal immigrants. . . . At least one nonprofit program providing health care to legal and illegal patients faces a big cut in funding. . . . Last

Friday, October 15, 2004

More on brain-dead patient in Salt Lake City.

There were two follow-up articles in the Salt Lake Tribune today about Jesse Koochin, the 6-year-old patient whose parents, Gayle and Steve, reject his physicians' diagnosis of death. The ethics of treating brain-dead patients are discussed here, and the factual developments in the case are described here.

According to the article, "on Thursday, Gayle and Steve Koochin were frantically trying

Thursday, October 14, 2004

State Medicaid expenditures eclipse education.

According to the 2003 State Expenditure Report of the National Association of State Budget Officers, state Medicaid expenditures exceed those for education, for the first time ever:
Total Medicaid spending in fiscal 2003 excluding administrative costs was $243.6 billion, or 8 percent more than fiscal 2002. Based on those amounts, Medicaid accounted for 21.4 percent of total state spending in

Brain dead?

Thanks to Elizabeth Woeckner for this story:

The Salt Lake Tribune has a long story in today's paper about the looming court case over a 6-year-old cancer patient who has been diagnosed as brain dead by two separate physicians who examined him on Monday and Tuesday of this week. His parents don't believe he is dead and want to take him home on a ventilator to care for him with naturopathic

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Complementary and alternative medicine & state licensing boards.

Adam Liptak has an article in today's N.Y. Times in which a South Carolina physician prescribes intravenous injections of what his lawyer describes as "a very dilute form of hydrogen peroxide" for a Minnesota patient with MS. The result: over the next five days, she bleeds to death. Local authorities classify her death as a homicide and the physician is sued for her wrongful death. The state

Thursday, September 30, 2004

If you liked "Farenheit 911" . . .

. . . you just might love Michael Moore's next documentary effort. According to an article today's Chicago Tribune (rquires free registration), he is finalizing financing for a film -- tentatively entitled "Sicko" -- about the American health care system, or at least about two of the country's least favorite players: managed care and the drug companies. Meanwhile, the paper reports, "Some of

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Boundary dispute.

The Miami New Times will publish a piece on Thursday that raises troubling questions of possible boundary violations by a physician. We're not talking about a property dispute over a fence line, but the kind of boundary defined by medical ethics. A physician shouldn't have a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient she or he is treating; that's a boundary violation, crossing over a line

Monday, September 27, 2004

Euthanasia rights for minors.

There are reports (also here) of a coalition of bioethics groups that oppose a recent proposal that would allow patients down to the age of 12 years to obtain euthanasia services without parental consent. Currently, 16-17-year-olds can decide for themselves. I am still looking for independent verification that the Dutch are considering a change in their law.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

End of life decision making

Here's long piece in Monday's New York Times about end-of-life decision making. This really resonates with me -- a lot of cases that come to one of the five hospital ethics committees I serve on present just like the cases described here.

Health care costs & technology.

Article worth reading from today's "Week in Review" section of the N.Y. Times: "Health Care Costs Are a Killer, but Maybe That's a Plus," by Steve Lohr. The message: even after we've squeezed out the 10-20% of health care costs attributable to inefficiencies and waste, you can expect health care costs to continue to spiral upward. Electronic medical records, computerized prescriptions, and

Saturday, September 25, 2004

First Amendment: Is there a right to clone?

Brian Alexander has an interesting article in Sunday's N.Y. Times Magazine in which he raises the possibility that scientific research is protected by the First Amendment, just like speech. The gist of the article is in the following paragraphs: Why legal scholars would defend the right to research is hardly mysterious. The founding fathers passionately defended scientific and academic freedom,

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Schiavo: Is this the end of the road?

Google News shows 489 stories (and counting) about the Florida Supreme Court's decision yesterday to strike down "Terri's Law," which the state legislature hastily passed last year to authorize Gov. Jeb Bush to circumvent the Florida courts' consistent determinations that Michael Schiavo was the appropriate decision maker on behalf of his wife, lying in a permanent vegetative state in a Florida

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The ethics of face transplants

As reported by AP (courtesy of Yahoo!), a team of doctors from the University of Louisville and the Netherlands has joined similar teams from Cleveland, England and France, all waiting for the chance to perform a face transplant. The procedure involves removing a donor's skin and other tissue, putting it over the recipient's bone and cartilage and reconnecting it. The team plans to reserve the

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bush Administration v. Big Pharma.

It's a real man-bites-dog story, but the NY Times is reporting that the Bush Administration, over the objections of the pharmaceutical industry, is posting comparative drug prices on the CMS webpage. Having carried some heavy water for Big Pharma for years, the administration appears to have started taking its pro-consumer, pro-market-forces rhetoric seriously.

On the other hand, this is a

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Dementia and the voter.

Here's a sleeper issue, from today's Washington Post ("Dementia and the Voter"): As swing states with large elderly populations such as Florida gear up for another presidential election, a sleeper issue has been gaining attention on medical, legal and political radar screens: Many people with advanced dementia appear to be voting in elections -- including through absentee ballot. Although there

Monday, September 13, 2004

Single-payer system? Consider Canada.

Steven Lewis has an excellent piece in the Sept. 14 Canadian Medical Association Journal in defense of Canada's single-payer, universal health insurance system. While acknowledging limitations and lessons learned, he insists that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Here's his list:First, it is that rare form of achievement: social justice combined with administrative efficiency. Although

Child health: a progress report.

The September/October issue of Health Affairs is now on-line, and as you can tell from a quick perusal of its table of contents, it has a lot of good research and writing on the subject of child health, including: the usual thoughtful article by editor John Iglehart ("To What Are Children Entitled? Coming Challenges");Paul Wise's helpful article, "The Transformation Of Child Health In The United

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Speaking of Big Pharm . . .

Today's N.Y. Times has a review of Marcia Angell's scathing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, The Truth About the Drug Companies. The reviewer, Janet Maslin, writes that "Dr. Angell's case is tough, persuasive and troubling. Arguing that in 1980 drug manufacturing changed from a good business into 'a stupendous one,' thanks to changes in government regulations. She adds, 'Of the many

Negative trial results and Big Pharm.

As previously noted here, PhRMA (the pharmaceutical industry association) responded to the rising tide criticism from physicians, consumers, and politicians by proposing guidelines for the release of clinical-trial results when those results are unfavorable.

The NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after Glaxo SmithKline for just such secrecy, resulting in a settlement announced August 26.

Torture and medicine.

I've been remiss in failing to post a comment on the recent article (in the August 21 issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet) by Minnesotan Steven H. Miles, M.D., entitled "Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine" (available for free). It is a stinging indictment of military physicians, PAs, nurses, and medics who persistently and conspicuously violated the Geneva Conventions by

Pediatric ethics & drug studies.

As reported in today's Olympia (Wash.) Olympian, the FDA's Pediatric Ethics subcommittee will meet on Sept. 10 to discuss whether "[i]t is ethical in the name of science to give a healthy child as young as 9 a controlled substance." The story continues:
The research, proposed by the National Institute of Mental Health, includes healthy children among 9- to 18-year-olds who would receive a single

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Class-action suit by 600K docs against 6 insurers.

I don't see anyone else reporting this story, but according to a story in Thursday's N.Y. Times by Milt Freudenheim,"[a]n appeals court upheld class-action status yesterday for a lawsuit brought on behalf of at least 600,000 doctors contending that six of the nation's largest health insurers regularly reduce payments for medical services. . . . A three-judge panel of the United States Court of

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Bioethics council's report card.

The Boston Globe's Raja Mishra wrote an article in Tuesday's paper ("President Bush's bioethics panel has little influence") that assesses the President's Council on Bioethics at the 33-month mark. Mishra's central observations:
The presidential order establishing the council gave the panel two major mandates: To help guide the president in biomedical policy-making and to provide a national

Schiavo case: report on oral argument

There are a few reports on yesterday's oral argument before the Florida Supreme Court on the constitutionality of "Terri's Law":

A file report from the Associate Press (courtesy of the Winston-Salem Journal) reports (Sept. 1): Justice Charles Wells said he was troubled because he had to conclude that 'Terri's Law,' passed last October, was intended to sidestep a trial-court ruling that found '

Keillor on Democrats and Republicans.

Want to know what this election is about? I'd tell you, but Garrison Keillor's done a much better job of it than I can. Amen, Brother Garrison!

Schiavo case to be argued in Fla, Supreme Court today.

As reported in a long, detailed article by Laurie Cunningham in today's Miami Daily Business Review, the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral argument today in Michael Schiavo's challenge to the constitutionality of Terri's Law. A Florida appellate court decided against the state and struck down the statute earlier this year. Earlier discussions on this blog of the litigation and the various

Doc wins $366 miilion in peer-review verdict.

It may be the largest verdict in Dallas history: $366 million It has to be the largest plaintiff's verdict in a peer-review case by a physician anywhere, any time. As reported in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, an interventional cardiologist whose privileges to perform cardiac catheterizations and echocardiograms were temporarily suspended and then reinstated after a panel of national experts

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Decision of a Lifetime (

Last Saturday The Washington Post published an interesting essay by its long-time chief diplomatic correspondent, Chalmers M. Roberts, whose byline began appearing in the paper in 1949 (the year I was born), who retired in 1971 (the year I graduated from his college and mine), and who in 2004 has appeared for what may well be, at age 93, his last appearance in the pages of the paper he has served

Friday, August 27, 2004

Wrongful death claims and the stillborn fetus.

Thanks to Austin friend Louise Joy for alerting me to this case, handed down Thursday by the Texas Supreme Court:

In Fort Worth Osteopathic Hosp., Inc. v. Reese, No. 02-1061, the court held that its ruling in Witty v. Am. Gen. Capital Distrib., Inc., 727 S.W.2d 503 (Tex. 1987) (holding that the statutory wrongful death cause of action does not allow recovery for a stillborn fetus) does not

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Times' obit for Kübler-Ross

Lots more detail than the early AP newswire story: click here. Here's an odd note:
In the later part of her career, she embarked on research to verify the existence of life after death, conducting, with others, thousands of interviews with people who recounted near-death experiences, particularly those declared clinically dead by medical authorities but who were then revived. Her prestige

Five Stages of Grief.

The AP story on the death of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross reminds me of a poem that we read in Law, Literature & Medicine, "The Five Stages of Grief" by Linda Pastan:
The night I lost you
someone pointed me towards
the Five Stages of Grief.
Go that way, they said,
it's easy, like learning to climb
stairs after the amputation.
And so I climbed.
Denial was first.
I sat down at breakfast

Kübler-Ross dies.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the path-breaking psychiatrist who wrote On Death and Dying (1969) and whose "fve stages of grief" is taught in every medical school, died Tuesday in Scottsdale at the age of 78. The AP report is here. Kübler-Ross mined a very rich vein of scholarship after her early classic appeared, including such titles as:
On Life After Death Living With Death and Dying Life

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Nonprofit hospitals' billing practices examined.

There's a good article by Roger Yu in this morning's Dallas Morning News (requires free subscription) that gets into more of the details of hospitals' billing practices than the USA Today article does. The opening paragraphs tell the story pretty well:Uninsured and diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, Elaine Sawyer entered the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. A month later, doctors

Nonprofit hospitals in Woe-town (USA Today)

An article in today's USA Today ("Scales tipping against tax-exempt hospitals") provides a laundry-list of legal challenges facing the nonprofit hospital industry. Here's the quick rundown:
•The IRS is looking at salaries paid to executives and officers of 2,000 of the nation's charities and non-profit foundations, which include hospitals. Salaries deemed “excessive” may violate federal law.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Bush's health plan doesn't produce claimed results.

And Kerry's will almost undoubtedly cost more -- as much as $300 billion more -- that his campaign's estimate of $653 billion over 10 years. That's what the experts, including those at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, are saying, according to an article in yesterday's Washington Post by Ceci Connelly, whose reporting on the political side of health issues continues to be the best

Sunday, August 22, 2004

GPO's receive subpoenas from Dallas' U.S. Attorney.

This is going to be huge.

Novation, one of the largest group purchasing organizations (GPO's) in the country ($20 billion a year in sales), has been served with subpoenas signed by the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's office in Dallas, according to an article in Saturday's N.Y. Times. It's part of a much larger investigation into the way medical supplies are purchased, sold

Medicare reform hits insurers' opposition.

The biggest reform package to amend Medicare since its inception in 1965 (passed last fall) is famously unpopular with seniors (at least the ones who know the details). It also really hacked off Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike, who have objected to being lied to about the true price of the reforms by the White House (through the DHHS/CMS chief actuary, acting under "orders" (

First-ever HIPAA conviction.

I'm not sure we needed HIPAA in order to prosecute the conduct described in this press release, but that's the statute that was used by the US Attorney in Seattle to convict Richard Gibson, who admitted that he "obtained a cancer patient's name, date of birth and social security number while [he] was employed at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and that he disclosed that information to get four

DHHS/Health Information Technology: GAO Briefing

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a good summary of the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to promote the development and widespread use of electronic health records and the legal environment in which those efforts are being carried out. The briefing document for the staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Illegal immigrants and emergency care.

As previously mentioned here, CMS has announced its plan to implement a provision of the Medicare reform law that is intended to provide some relief for states hit with high costs for providing emergency medical treatment for undocumented immigrants. As reported today's N.Y. Times, one of the quid's that accompanies the government's quo is a requirement that hospitals inquire into and record the

More on stem cells.

If you thought I was too tough on Tommy Thompson's political news release on stem cells earlier this week (see below), here are some excerpts from George Q. Daley's upcoming article, "Missed Opportunities in Stem-Cell Research," slated for publication in the August 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and released early through the journal's web site today (may require paid

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Stem cells.

In an apparent attempt to close the "stem cell gap" between Democrats and Republicans, skillfully highlighted by Ron Reagan at the DNC Convention in Boston, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson released a statement on the subject today. It's not on the HHS Press Office's web page yet, so here it is in full, with my commentary:

Date: August 8, 2004
For Release: Immediately

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Nonprofit class actions: 1st settlement announced.

Modern Healthcare is reporting that "[s]ix-hospital North Mississippi Health Services, Tupelo, reached an agreement with a Mississippi law firm to provide an estimated $150 million in refunds, debt forgiveness, discounts and free care to about 48,000 eligible uninsured patients. The $150 million would cover the system's obligations under the agreement for the past three years and into the future.

Abortion and deceptive trade practices.

It's a somewhat unusual combination, but a federal judge in New Orleans enjoined a local man from a variety of deceptive trade practices all intended to interfere with the abortion rights of women (see AP newswire story, courtesy of the Boston Globe). According to the news story: US District Judge Stanwood Duval granted a preliminary injunction against William A. Graham, who was accused of

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Indigent care woes.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an article in today's paper about cutbacks by Aurora Sinai, a downtown hospital that serves a mostly poor patient population. Bottom line: Sinai isn't making enough money on Medicare and Medicaid patients to offset losses incurred from treating poor patients whose care is paid for by the county's general assistance medical program ("GAMP"). Following

Reproductive rights update.

There are two items of note in today's news roundup:
The Department of Justice has appealed their trial-court loss in San Francisco in which the district court declared the 2003 federal ban on late-term abortions unconstitutional; you can read the San Francisco Chronicle story here. Considering the unbroken string of losses they have suffered on this statute, which blatantly and baldly fails to

Monday, August 2, 2004

Uncompensated care and undocumented immigrants.

Two developments in the past couple of weeks provide enduring lessons in the politics of health care for undocumented immigrants.

On July 22 the Texas Attorney General issued Opinion No. GA-0219 to answer the question whether section 285.201 of the Health and Safety Code requires a hospital district to provide nonemergency public health services to undocumented persons who are otherwise

Maternal-fetal conflict, Texas style.

As reported in an article by Mary Alice Robbins in the Aug. 2 issue of Texas Lawyer, the Potter County DA is prosecuting a woman whose newborn tested positive for cocaine. The woman is charges with a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, Health & Safety Code § 481.122, which provides: (a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly delivers a controlled substance listed in Penalty

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Medical error: does it kill 195,000 annually?

When the IOM study, To Err Is Human (report brief), came out in 1999, it caused an uproar with its estimate that as many as 95,000 Americans a year die as the result of preventable medical error. According to HealthGrades, that estimate would have been twice as large if the IOM had included (1) failure to diagnose and treat a serious medical problem in time and (2) unexpected death in a low-risk

Monday, July 26, 2004

Health care reform redux.

Tonight's Democratic National Convention kick-off will be punctuated by a lot of applause lines.  One of the biggest will be for health care reform.  The Clintons proved in 1993 just how volatile this issue can be, but the National Coalition on Health Care -- which claims to represent nearly 100 of the nation's largest businesses, unions, provider groups, insurers, pension funds, and other groups

Patient safety, quality bill heads to conference

Thanks to AHLA's Health Law Highlights for this summary of last week's events on the long-delayed patient safety and quality bill:
The Senate approved July 22 legislation intended to improve patient safety by promoting medical error reporting (Congressional Record). The "Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act" would encourage voluntary error reporting by protecting patient safety data from

Sunday, July 25, 2004

FDA, preemption, & tort reform.

Preemption is one of those issues -- along with issue and claim preclusion, exhaustion of remedies, and justiciability -- that only a lawyer can love. It's technical, messy, and a one-way ticket to Palookaville for plaintiffs unlucky enough to bump up against it in their state-law-based tort suits.

Preemption starts off easy: Under the Supremacy Clause, federal laws take precedence over state

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Death penalty & psychotropic drugs.

On July 21st, U.S. District Judge Royal Fergeson (U.S. District Court for the Western District, Pecos Division) granted a Texas death-row inmate's petition for habeas corpus relief in an 80-page opinion that (1) blows the state's case out of the water; (2) includes harrowing accounts of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) depicts the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Friday, July 23, 2004

Drug reimportation: video conference.

The Alliance for Health Reform and Kaiser Family Foundation put on a 1.5 hour conference on reimportation yesterday. The video plus PowerPoint slides are available here. Of especial note are the slides from Donna Vogt and Susan Thaul (both of the Congressional Research Service) comparing and contrasting the competing bills, which are:
HR 2427 (not yet available; try here) (Gutnecht)S 2307 (

FTC/DOJ: Abolish CON laws.

It had to happen sooner or later: One of the mainstays of federal health care policy for 20 years -- state Certificate of Need (CON) laws -- are now being vilified by the joint FTC/DOJ task force on competition in health care. The group also counseled states not to pass laws that authorize collective bargaining by physicians (too late, in the case of Texas, but our law is so cumbersome and

Long-term care: crisis.

Molly Ivins isn't the first, only the latest, in a long and growing line of commentators who see long-term care as The Next Big Thing in health care. This part of the health care industry is woefully undercaptalized and underdeveloped, and if things seem bad at the local nursing home now, wait until the Boomers start hitting those places (the oldest Boomers start turning 60 next year). Molly's

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

JCAHO hit in GAO report for CMS.

If you can understand the title of this post without a translator, you're a true health-law nerd!

As the Associated Press reports today (courtesy of the Indianapolis Star), the Government Accountability Office (GAO (formerly the "General Accounting Office")) has filed a report that is extremely critical of the performance of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Genetic screening and . . .

Amy Harmon has a good article in today's N.Y. Times about genetic screening -- pre- and post-conception -- and (i) the lack of uniform professional standards for when to offer screening, (ii) the lack of government regulation of the field, and (iii) the growing belief that prospective parents are entitled at least to the information about which tests are available, which ones are covered by

Drug reimportation.

Here's a terrific audio report from Congressional Quarterly's Capitol Hill Bureau Chief Mary Agnes Carey on the status of the House and Senate reimportation bills, the prospects of anything coming out of this week's markup session, and the political angle on this issue in 2004. If you have trouble opening the audio file, here's a link to the transcript of this broadcast.

Blame the lawyers.

Today's on-line Wall Street Journal has the results of an interesting survey about Americans' concerns over health care quality (requires subscription). 
Public concern about medical, surgical and diagnostic errors is high and many Americans have doubts about the ability of medical institutions to prevent these types of errors, according to the latest WSJ Online/Harris Interactive health poll.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Class actions suits against non-profit hospitals.

Julie Appleby has a review piece in today's USA Today. From the sidebar:
Several high-profile law firms have filed 31 cases against non-profit hospitals and hospital chains since late June. The cases make similar allegations, including: Some hospitals violate an implicit contract with the government to provide charity care in exchange for tax-exempt status by charging uninsured patients more than

Sunday, July 18, 2004

More on designer babies.

The Sunday Independent (U.K.) has a report in today's issue: A two-year-old boy who needs urgent treatment to cure a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder is at the centre of a fresh row over creating "designer babies" with human embryos. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is poised to relax its rules on using genetic screening for medical treatments on Wednesday. The

Conceiving a child to save another.

An article in today's Arizona Daily Star discusses the practice of conceiving a child in order to produce a donor (bone marrow, cord blood . . . ), which the editors describe as "deeply controversial." In and of itself, it's hard to see where the moral objection, or the argument for regulation, comes in. The article identifies a few problems, only one of which focuses on the decision to conceive

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Reimportation bill stalls in Senate.

Ruby L. Bailey wrote a good piece on reimportation in yesterday's Detroit Free Press (provided here courtest of the San Jose Mercury News). In particular, she provided a concise comparison of the competing Senate bills:
COMPARING THE BILLS Two U.S. Senate bills would allow drug importation into the United States from Canada and other countries. How they compare: Pharmaceutical Market Access and

Gary Hart: no joke.

Gary Hart.  Mention his name and you are bound to get a snicker.  Donna Rice . . . "Monkey Business" . . .  But consider this from tomorrow's review (in the N.Y. Times) of his new book, The Fourth Power:
Few Americans have more right to say ''I told you so'' than Gary Hart. During the 1990's, when the foreign policy establishment was obsessed with Star Wars and other issues left over from the

Readers respond to PAS column by Kristof.

As noted here recently, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed piece lauding the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide. Four readers respond in today's N.Y. Times. The responses range from the syllogistic (killing is wrong; suicide is a subset of killing; suicide is wrong) to the empathic. That latter category includes both sentiments both pro (PAS is a humane

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Assisted suicide and Ashcroft.

As previously noted here, John Ashcroft has tried to halt Oregon's "Death With Dignity" experiment by threatening action against any physician who participates in assisted suicide by writing a prescription for a drug that appears on the federal government's list of controlled substances. His legal theory appears to be that the exception allowing physicians to prescribe controlled substances

House votes to allow Canada drug imports.

The Associated Press is reporting (via Yahoo! News) that the House of Representatives voted 389-31 to approve a $16.8 billion appropriations bill for the Dep't of Agriculture and the FDA that includes a measure that would legalize prescription drug purchases from Canadian sources. That's the good news. The bad news: "The provision is not expected to remain in the final spending bill to be

Federal marriage amendment dies in Senate.

According to this afternoon's Washington Post web page, the federal marriage amendment died in the Senate this afternoon. Here's the link to the Senate's roll-call vote on the motion to close debate (which is how anything gets to a vote on the Senate floor - 60 votes are required, and this motion got only 48). Because 6 Republicans broke ranks and voted with all but 3 Democrats against cloture,

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

CMS: Lying to Congress.

Lying to Congress ought to get a person into a lot of trouble. Tom Scully, the former head of CMS, is poised to skate on the charge that he directed the head auditor of CMS to lie to Congress about the actual budget projections for last fall's Medicare reform proposal. Threatened with the loss of his job if he told Congress the truth, the auditor shaded his estimate by nearly 50% (or $150

Physician recruitment on FBI's radar.

According to a talk given at a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association news conference, the FBI is focusing increased attention on hospitals' physician-recruitment deals, according to a news item (requires subscription) in today's "Daily Dose" from Modern Healthcare. Tim Delaney, head of the Bureau's healthcare fraud unit, also said the top areas of growing fraud are pharmaceutical and DME cases,

Monday, July 12, 2004

Nonprofits under scrutiny.

More on the legal woes of nonprofit hospitals under attack for their billing and collections practices with respect to unfunded patients: the cover story of the July issue of HealthLeaders magazine, "Aggressive Collections," by Philip Betbeze, provides an excellent overview of recent developments.

Late-term abortion law struck down again.

As reported in Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a federal judge has struck down Missouri's late-term (or "partial-birth") abortion law. The grounds for the decision are similar to those relied upon in June when the federal court in San Francisco declared the similar federal law to be unconstitutional: the absence of an exception to the prohibition to protect the life of the mother, a provision

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Bush's marriage thing.

Bush 41 was famous for his desire to have "the vision thing." Bush 43 seems to have visions galore, including a "marriage vision." In this vision, gays aren't married and "welfare mothers" are. And just to make sure his marriage vision becomes a reality, the President favors a federal marriage amendment to nail down that first notion and is proposing to spend $200 million to achieve the second

Science & politics redux.

Today's N.Y. Times has an article by Mireya Navarro ("Experts in Sex Field Say Conservatives Interfere With Health and Research") that sounds a familiar theme:For years, Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based organization devoted to adolescent sexual health, says, it received government grants without much trouble. Then last year it was subjected to three federal reviews.

James Wagoner, the

Stem cells and cloning.

The United States' failure to work out a comprehensive and comprehensible set of policies on stem cell research and human cloning is emblematic of a wider, international failure. In an excellent review piece in this week's issue of The Lancet, Carol A. Tauer (Univ. of Minn.) surveys the wreckage and suggests a new approach to forging a consensus.

Mixing science & politics (again).

In an editorial in this week's issue, the editors of the British medical journal The Lancet take the Bush Administration to task for its new policy by which DHHS' Office of Global Public Health will choose which, if any, US Government scientists can serve as advisers to WHO. Instead of going directly to the experts they want as technical advisers, as WHO has done in the past, the organisation

2 new cases from Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court had a pretty heavy opinion day on Thursday and handed down a couple of cases of potential interest to health care providers. Providers prevailed in both actions, thus maintaining a winning streak in the Supreme Court that must stretch back years.

Utica National Insurance Co. of Texas v. American Indemnity Co., ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex., No. 02-0090, July 9, 2004): majority

French ban human cloning.

According to the International Herald-Tribune, France has banned human cloning (now punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of over US$ 9 million). They also suspended their ban on stem cell research on human embryos for five years. AP reports (courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) that the prison term is 20 years. It also says that the new bioethics law, originally introduced

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Studies Look at Health Care in the U.S.

The N.Y. Times ran a short article in today's paper surveying some of the emerging theories, and the developing consensus, among health care economists. After reviewing the usual benchmarks that place the United States at or near the bottom of developed countries in health-care measure despite spending more, and more per capita, than the others, author Jeff Madrick, continues:What may surprise

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

OIG's statement re: Scully, the CMS chief auditor, and the price of Medicare reform.

The Acting Principal Deputy Inspector General's statement is on the OIG website. Chairman Grassley released a brief statement about the IG's report and posted it to the Senate Finance Committee's website. The IG's statement says the report has been forwarded to the Secretary of HHS, but so far there's nothing in that agency's web site about the report. The folks who should be really upset at

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Health Affairs' mega-med-mal issue.

The July/August issue of Health Affairs was released today, and it's a doozy: half the issue is devoted to observations, empirical studies, and prescriptions for what is universally described as a medical-malpractice crisis. Here are some of the highlights (from the free previews and abstracts on the journal's web site):
The Forgotten Third: Liability Insurance And The Medical Malpractice Crisis

Scully pressured actuary, didn't break law: OIG reports

According to a report in this afternoon's "Daily Dose" (by Modern Healthcare), the DHHS OIG has concluded that Tom Scully did, indeed, pressure the CMS chief actuary to withhold the true price tag ($524 billion over 10 years) of the Medicare prescription drug benefit from Congress last fall. More than that, the Administration's earlier (and affirmatively false) figure of $395 billion was allowed

Monday, July 5, 2004

Do pediatricians need lawyers in order to provide good care?

That's the tantalizing question in an article in the July 2004 issue of Pediatrics. The full article isn't available on the web, but an abstract is:PEDIATRICS Vol. 114 No. 1 July 2004, pp. 224-228



Why Pediatricians Need Lawyers to Keep Children Healthy
Pediatricians recognize that social and

Medicine and literature.

Catching up on some reading . . . the May 22 issue of The Lancet continues its series of articles by (or, in earlier installments, about) physician-writers with a truly splendid piece by Brazilian physician and author Moacyr Scliar. All are available for free (albeit with a brief registration form). Here are all the articles in this series that I know of:Moacry ScliarMartin WincklerRichard

Health reform and the presidential election.

Last month (June 5), the British medical journal The Lancet hopefully titled its editorial on U.S. health care and the November election, "Bush vs Kerry: health is a critically decisive issue" (free). After surveying the relatively tepic health-reform proposals of both the Bush and the Kerry camps, however, and reminding us that the Clintons' experience in 1993 has probably turned ambitious

The Vice-President's physician.

This week's New Yorker has an article by correspondent Jane Mayer on VP Cheney's physician's battle with addiction. The New York Times and The Washington Post picked up the story in this morning's editions, too. Specifically, the physician who famously declared Cheney fit for office four months before Cheney suffered his fourth heart attack has been battling an addiction to narcotics for nine

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Medical ethicist: Honesty isn't always the best policy.

Daniel Sokol, a medical ethicist of the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, London, has an interesting piece in the International Herald Tribune defending the use of deception in the rare case in which honesty (i.e., respecting a patient's autonomy) might lead to death or serious harm -- that is, when truth-telling is clearly not in the patient's best interests. Sokol's presentation is pretty

July 4: George III & George II.

Cheers to the N.Y. Times editorial editors for running Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant op-ed, "Their George and Ours." As she works her way through the Declaration of Independence's bill of particulars against George III, the parallels to our own present leaders' policies keep mounting. They will catch some flak for running this piece, I'll wager, but who can object to the closing three

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Mammalian cloning continues to pose safety concerns.

From the BBC, there's a story today about U.S. researchers from Cornell who reported to the European Fertility Conference in Berlin that mouse experiments comparing assisted reproduction techniques with cloning showed "significantly impaired development in the cloned embryos compared with those derived from more conventional ART techniques and this has made us more convinced that reproductive

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Has the U.S. lost its capacity for outrage?

That's the question I asked myself after reading Art Caplan's piece in Newsday today. Art tells the tale of the recent meeting in Denver of the American Society of Concierge Physicians: "Concierge medicine is a special, high-end form of medical care that guarantees that if you need treatment you will get it, without a hassle, seven days a week-but only for an extra fee. If you can pay amounts

PhRMA proposes guidelines for publication of negative clinical trial results.

As previously noted, this is generating a lot of interest on the part of the press, NYS Att'y Gen'l Eliot Spitzer, and others. (Kaiser Foundation's web page has a good summary of the various strands of this issue.) Now the drug industry's trade association, PhRMA, has revised its principles on the subject, according a story in today's Wall Street Journal (requires paid subscription). Click for

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Lucky for Florida the antitrust laws don't apply to state action.

As reported in today's "Daily Dose" from Modern Healthcare: "Florida banned specialty hospitals aimed at a single condition and eliminated its certificate-of-need law for new adult open-heart surgery and angioplasty programs at general hospitals. The law, signed yesterday by Gov. Jeb Bush, also exempts from CON the addition of beds to existing structures, but a CON is still required for new

Charity care and nonprofit hospitals: ABA teleconference materials (4/28/04).

Here's a page of good background materials on charity care and tax-exempt status generally, some policy considerations from Nancy Kane at Harvard's School of Public Health, and some local insights into Champaign County's decision to revoke the tax-exempt status of Provena Covenant Medical Center. After diligently scouring the Web, I have come up empty-handed in my search for a copy of the

More on Provena Covenant.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's website has a good summary of the WSJ journal article mentioned below. The Champaign County Board of Review's decision is here. I'll get a link to the Illinois Department of Revenue's decision as soon as I can find it.

Catholic nonprofit hospital fights to regain tax exemption in Illinois.

The big news before the recent rash of hearings into and lawsuits against tax-exempts was the decision by Illinois' Department of Revenue affirming the Champaign County Board of Review's determination that the Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana was not sufficiently charitable in its operations and no longer deserved to be exempt from local property taxes. The saga is described today in a

Monday, June 28, 2004

U.S. health care outcomes compare poorly with other developed nations.

Bob Herbert, in his column in today's N.Y. Times, with a substantial assist from the research of Dr. Barbara Starfield at Johns Hopkins, documents the comparative rankings of this country's health outcomes (e.g., low birth weight percentages, neonatal mortality, infant mortality, life expectancy at age 1 and at age 15):"Of 13 countries in a recent comparison, the United States ranks an average of

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Hospital billing practices reviewed.

It's an old and familiar story for anyone with any experience as a physician, pharmacist, hospital exec, patient, or patient's parent or spouse. (Have I left out anyone?) Routine, 2-hour surgery is billed at $25,652.14, with 4-figure charges for mysteriously named items, astronomical pricing codes for everyday items (the medical equivalent of the Defense Department's $700 hammer), and plain old

Latest marketing ploy from Big Pharm?

As reported in today's N.Y. Times (requires paid subscription), Schering-Plough's been sending 5- and 6-figure checks, unbidden, to physicians "in exchange for an attached 'consulting' agreement that required nothing other than his commitment to prescribe the company's medicines." (Kind of makes you nostalgic for the days when they thought they could buy the loyalty of physicians for the price of

William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) adds bioethics major.

William Jewell College, according to a recent AP story (via the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World), has added a bioethics major. Two features of the story seem especially noteworthy:Kansas City planners see the major as an important phase in the emergence of KC as a biomedical research center: "The major will include study in biology, chemistry, and religion and philosophy, and it's being introduced

Friday, June 25, 2004

AMA beating the med-mal crisis drum loudly.

N.Y. Times op-editorialist Bob Herbert has followed up on last Monday's column with another swipe at those who claim that soaring med mal insurance premiums are the result of massive incrases in med mal payouts. This time, though, it's the AMA who gets rapped for feeding the frenzy. Claiming that 20 states are now in a med-mal insurance crisis (up from 12 in 2002), the AMA has conveniently

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Parkland: public hospital blues.

The Dallas Morning News' Sherry Jacobson has been doing a fine job in two recent pieces (6/23, 6/24) covering Parkland's financial woes. Bottom line: Parkland's caught in The Big Squeeze: Federal law requires the hospital to provide emergency medical care to anyone who needs it, regardless of their county (our country) of residence. But state law requires other counties to reimburse Dallas only

Discounting bills for uninsured patients: not as easy as it sounds.

The Wall Street Journal ran a good article (subscription required) Thursday on the difficult choices faces by hospital administrators when uninsured patients rack up hefty bills: Who should get a discount? And how much of the bill should be written off? Uninsured patients come in all shapes and sizes, and hospital policies are only a starting point for making the hard choices posed by uninsured

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

More on tax-exemptions.

I particularly recommend a recent (June 22) publication by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation entitled "Description of Present Law Relating to Charitable and Other Exempt Organizations and Statistical Information Regarding Growth and Oversight of the Tax-Exempt Sector." It's a good overview of the tax-exempt industry and horn-book style overview of the legal basics.

Tax-exempt orgs much in the news.

There's a lot of scrutiny of tax-exempt organizations these days, much of it on the health care industry, and all of it of potential significance to tax-exempt health care providers. Here's a quick run-down of yesterday's developments:Richard Scruggs announced yesterday that he (or related firms) has filed 5 more class-action suits against 8 more defendants challenging the amount of charity care

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Not-for-profit litigation.

More suits were filed today against some health care giants, including Catholic Health Initiative and Baylor Health Care System. Here's a more stable link to the web page where the pleadings can be found:

Monday, June 21, 2004

Unpublished (i.e., negative) clinical trial results.

While I pondered how to blog this topic efficiently, along came the folks at Kaiser Family Foundation with a characteristically terrific summary of three recent newspaper reports on this important topic. If NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is right about this, GlaxoSmithKline's decision to withhold negative research results about the side effect of the antidepressant Paxil in children "the . .

Supreme Court: ERISA preempts state-law claim against HMOs.

As expected, the Supreme Court today decided that ERISA does, in fact, preempt the tort-like cause of action created by the Texas legislature in the Texas Health Care Liability Act, at least as against HMO's providing health care coverage through an employer. Indeed, the cause of action is completely preempted (§ 502(a)(1)(B)), so ERISA not only provides a defense, it also creates a basis for

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Living wills under fire.

It sounds like the old rap on living wills is being recycled. According to an article in the June 21 Newsday, experts are weighing in on the disutility of living wills. The old rap: (1) Writers of living wills have a hard time predicting with any precision the diagnosis and treatment options that will be their actual end-of-life reality, and so the document has almost no chance of addressing

Med mal reform: speaking truth to power.

Bob Herbert nails the problem with med mal reform in the last third of an 800-word column that will appear in this morning's (6/21) N.Y. Times: [T]he problem when it comes to malpractice is not the amount of money the insurance companies are making (they're doing fine) or the rates the doctors have to pay, but rather the terrible physical and emotional damage that is done to so many unsuspecting

Boutique medicine comes to the Hamptons, big-time.

I've written about boutique medicine elsewhere (5Aug03, 14Aug03) - the practice by which a physician or group will charge an annual premium in return for which they will promise to return calls promptly, not keep the patient waiting in the waiting room, and generally provide the quality of care dinosaurs like me remember from the '50's. Today's N.Y. Times has an interesting opinion piece on the

Testing for fetal defects.

Good article in today's N.Y. Times on testing for fetal defects. The ethical issue is an interesting one, succinctly described in the article this way:The wider range and earlier timing of prenatal tests are raising concern among some bioethicists and advocates for disability rights who argue that the medical establishment is sending a message to patients that the goal is to guard against the

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Mixing Morals With Education?

Well, as a teacher of bioethics at a Methodist school with a Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, the debate over whether ethics has any place in a higher education curriculum is, to put it mildly, more than mildly interesting. The debate is set out well in Saturday's "Beliefs" column by Peter Steinfels in The New York Times.

Episcopal Diocese of Vermont issues guidelines for civil-union sacrament.

As reported in today's Washington Post, a task force of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont issued a report on June 8 setting out the guidelines for ceremonies that recognize same-sex civil unions. The document itself includes a thoughtful analysis of the scriptural and theological underpinnings of the blessing of same-sex relationships. Vermont isn't the only diocese to take this step, but it is

Complaints in the not-for-profit class actions.

The complaints in the NFP/charity-care cases mentioned here Thursday are here. [Update: that link now prompts you for a password. This link is better; it will take you to a home page that leads to the pleadings.] It looks as though the plan is for all litigation documents to be posted on this web site.

The Texas complaint (against East Texas Medical Center and related entities) is 22 pages

Friday, June 18, 2004

If it can happen to Harvard . . .

Alice Dembner reports in today's Business section of The Boston Globe that Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital "will pay $2.4 million to settle allegations that they misused four federal research and training grants, improperly billing the government for salaries and expenses, the US attorney's office said yesterday." Universities and teaching hospitals around the country need

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Nonprofit hospitals targeted for charging premium prices needy patients.

UPI has filed a story based upon an earlier Wall Street Journal report (requires paid subscription) about a series of suits -- with more to come -- against nonprofit hospitals:Richard Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer whose legal attack on the tobacco industry helped bring about historic changes -- and multibillion-dollar settlements -- is setting his sights on not-for-profit hospitals which he

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Antitrust and hospital consolidations.

In a late-afternoon report today, Modern Healthcare's Mark Taylor wrote that "the American Hospital Association delivered a 17-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department's antitrust division rejecting hospital consolidation as a key driver of healthcare costs and pleading for a review of health insurers' conduct. The AHA's letter anticipates the expected release this

Monday, June 14, 2004

AMA resolution to allow denial of care to plaintiffs' lawyers and families.

I discussed this resolution here last week, and today the N.Y. Times reports that the resolution filed by Dr. J. Chris Hawk III "drew an angry response from colleagues on Sunday at the annual meeting of the association. Many doctors stood up to denounce the resolution in passionate speeches - even after its sponsor . . . asked that it be withdrawn."

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Medical futility.

Today's Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call has a long, well-written article on medical futility. The author, Ann Wlazelek notes that a national turnabout in medical ethics, one in which doctors no longer want to employ all that medical science has to offer to keep patients alive and families find themselves fighting for their loved ones' right to live.

It's a shift in thinking that evolved in the

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Redefining parenthood.

Michael Douglas' ex-wife, Diandra, moves in with Zack Hamton Bacon III, a New York hedge-fund executive. When they try to have kids by IVF and failed, they tried a surrogate, and that failed, as well. (It's unclear whether the IVF attempts and the surrogacy attempt are the result of an infertility problem with one of the prospective parents or is simply a matter of preference. Both Diandra and

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hospital accused of paying illegal remuneration.

Today's Wall Street Journal has a report (requires subscription) on the case against Alvorado Hospital Medical Center and its former CEO, Barry Weinbaum. Prosecutors charge that the recruitment deal that lured physicians to the hospital constituted illegal remuneration in violation of 42 USC § 1320a-7b(b), which makes it a crime to pay "any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe, or rebate)

U.S. won't appeal jury verdict in St. David's case.

St. David's can rest easy, finally. After an epic struggle with the federal government, St. David's Hospital in Austin can bank on a March 2004 jury verdict, which held that the hospital retained sufficient control after its partnership with HCA that it could remain tax-exempt. According to an item in today's Daily Dose, the U.S. won't appeal the trial court judgment (although it did file a

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Should Doctors Help With Executions?

Good article in today's N.Y. Times about the ethics of physician involvement in executions. Here's the crux of the problem:About 25 states allow or require doctors to be present at executions. But information on the number of doctors who participate in executions is hard to come by, as states generally refuse to name anyone who does so, citing security and privacy concerns. . . .

Many of the

Doctors getting feisty: are there any ethical limits?

NPR's Morning Edition today ran a segment it describes this way:A South Carolina doctor is asking the American Medical Association to approve as ethical a policy that would permit doctors to refuse treating medical malpractice lawyers. The proposal demonstrates how heated the debate over medical malpractice has become. At 4 minutes and 2 seconds, it's well worth a listen. When the transcript

Dylan, poet redux.

What are the chances that the holder of the poetry chair at Oxford's latest poetical exegesis would land in 13th place on the bestseller list based on pre-publication sales alone? Pretty good, apparently, if the book gets hyped on page one of The New York Times. Less than 24 hours ago, it was at 109 (and that was a few hours after the Times article hit, so it was probably already

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Getting the bad news with the good news about a drug.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a good piece about drug studies that are tubed by the drug companies that sponsor them. Here's the set-up:A doctor is thinking of trying a new drug on a 67-year-old patient because a study shows it works well in men only slightly younger. But the doctor doesn't know about a clinical trial that found serious side effects in older patients. Those results were

The power of a front-page story in The Times.

When I put up the message below (less than 3 hours ago), Ricks' book on Dylan was ranked 109. Right now, it's ranked 28. The power of the press, indeed. I wonder what it was ranked yesterday at this time (before the Times piece hit the Web). . . .

Bob Dylan -- master poet.

Christopher Ricks, professor of humanities at Boston University and the newly minted Professor of Poetry at Oxford, has a thing for Bob Dylan, and has published a 500-page tome, "Dylan's Visions of Sin" (Ecco Press), in support of the claim that Dylan is a master poet, according to an article in today's N.Y. Times. The sales rank for this book, which will be officially released on

Organ trafficking.

There was an interesting piece in yesterday's The Christian Science Monitor on international organ sales. Between this article and the lengthy one in the N.Y. Times Magazine on May 23, this topic is getting a lot of attention these days. Is the U.S. policy against organ sales eventually doomed?

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

A prescription for healthcare.

Does Harvard's Michael E. Porter have the right idea for reforming the health care system? You can sample his ideas in this story from today's Boston Globe. It summarizes an 18-page piece ("Fixing Competition in U.S. Health Care (HBR Research Report)" by Porter and Elizabeth Olmstead Teisberg) in the June issue of The Harvard Business Review. Here's HBR's description of the piece:The U.S.

HHS OIG publishes draft revised hospital compliance guidance.

In today's Federal Register we have the latest addition to the growing body of "compliance guidance" from the Office of Inspector General, this time in the form of changes to the previously published hospital compliance guidance (63 Fed. Reg. 8987 (February 23, 1998)). All of the OIG compliance guidance documents are collected here.

According to the preamble,When the final version of this

Pfizer pleads guilty to marketing drug illegally.

While doctors can prescribe drugs for any use, the promotion of drugs for these so-called "off-label uses" is prohibited. The FDA's guidance in this area is relatively clear, although the agency has been somewhat constrained by a federal district court (Washington Legal Foundation v. Friedman (requires WestLaw subscription)). So it was a big deal when Pfizer admitted in a Boston case yesterday

Monday, June 7, 2004

Pediatric deaths due to error - Report.

As reported in today's Daily Dose, Pediatrics has published an article (link is to abstract only) that estimates thousands of pediatric patients die each year due to medical error:Thousands of children die unnecessarily in hospitals because of medical errors stemming from patient-safety lapses, and the extra cost of care for pediatric patients exposed to 20 types of safety problems exceeds $1

Washington Post analyzes Kerry's health plan.

In its Saturday issue, The Washington Post ran an article by Ceci Connolly on the Kerry health plan. In the "we've heard this before" category, the plan seeks to obtain health-care savings (and therefore reduced premiums, and therefore more coverage for the working uninsured) through electronic medical records and disease-management requirements. The plan would also position the federal

Sunday, June 6, 2004

How Private Is My Medical Information?

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a good report on medical records and privacy, with a special emphasis on information that is not covered by HIPAA.

50-state rundown on gay-marriage laws. has published a very helpful summary (updated June 4) of pending legislation, including constitutional amendments, from around the various states. says it "is a non-partisan, non-profit online news publication that reports each weekday on state government. Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts it was created in 1999 to strengthen and enrich U.S. political journalism by

Stem cell research ethics debated.

Yesterday's Cincinnati Enquirer ran an interesting debate over the ethics of stem-cell research, with Jeffrey Kahn arguing in favor and John Willke arguing against the practice.

Friday, June 4, 2004

Indigent care: Texas Attorney General Op. No. GA-0198.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an AG Opinion on indigent health care yesterday. It seems the Amarillo Hospital District sold its hospital, Northwest Texas Hospital, to Universal Health Systems of Amarillo, Inc., in 1996. UHS acquired, along with the hospital, the county's indigent-care obligations pursuant to Chapter 61 of the Health and Safety Act. Since then, UHS has noticed that

Schiavo case on fast track to Florida Supreme Court.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal has approved Michael Schiavo's request that Jeb Bush's appeal go directly to the Supreme Court, which allows the litigants to bypass the intermediate appellate stage in the dispute over the validity of "Terri's Law," according to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat. Thanks to Kathy Cerminara for the heads up on this.

Meanwhile, Terri's parents are again

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Additional thoughts on late-term abortions.

If the Administration and Congress were serious about having a law that would pass constitutional muster, Pub. L. No. 108-105 needs only two simple changes. First, make it clear that the prohibition does not apply to any procedure that is performed before the fetus is viable. Second, include an exception so that the prohibition doesn't apply when it is necessary to protect the health of the

Health insurance coverage and the kindness of strangers.

Health Affairs' May/June issue has an interesting article that show that workforce characteristics are a bigger influence on health care coverage rates than state health policies. Here's the journal's press release and summary:
Working In Communities With Greater Number Of ‘Advantaged’ Workers
Increases Likelihood Of Employer-Sponsored Coverage
BETHESDA, MD — Although there is wide variation

The skewed politics of assisted suicide.

Liberals touting states' rights. Conservatives pooh-poohing individual liberty and freedom. The are just some of the political side-effects of the debate over physician-assisted suicide in the wake of the 9th Circuit's opinion last week telling the Justice Department (and John Ashcroft personally) to take a hike and leave Oregonians and their Death With Dignity Act alone. Today's on-line Wall

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

NY Times' extensive coverage of life and death under Oregon's PAS law.

The New York Times has a series of articles today about the reality of living and dying under Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. The lead article is here. There is also a multimedia presentation on the voices of the terminally ill, which links off the main story page, and a brief story (with photos) of a woman who invited her friends in to experience her death together.

More on partial-birth abortion ruling.

Here's the essence of Judge Hamilton's ruling this morning (see below).

1. The partial-birth abortion law is unconstitutional in three respects.
a. The statutory definition of the procedure could apply to previability D&E procedures as well as inductions. It could also apply to the interventions performed by physicians who treat a woman experiencing a spontaneous second-trimester

Federal court declares partial-birth abortion law unconstitutional.

At 9:00am this morning, Federal District Judge Phyllis Hamilton issued a 117-page order permanently enjoining the enforcement of the federal partial-birth abortion law. The order is here (PDF); the statute may be viewed here.

As reported this morning by the San Francisco Chronicle:The ruling applies to the nation's 900 or so Planned Parenthood clinics and their doctors, who perform roughly

Monday, May 31, 2004

Alan Morrison . . . living greatly in the law.

Alan Morrison is closing shop at the Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington and leaving for a teaching job at Stanford, according to an article in the May 24th Legal Times (requires paid subscription; also available on WestLaw). This is the lawyer who brought us Virginia Pharmacy Board, Chadha, Bowsher, Mistretta, and the motion to recuse Justice Scalia from the Cheney energy case (which

Sunday, May 30, 2004

New Texas Supreme Court case on workers' comp.

Texas Workers' Compensation Commission v. Patient Advocates of Texas, No. 02-0804, decided May 28:In 1989, the Legislature enacted a new Workers’ Compensation Act in response to rising medical costs and increasing insurance premiums. The Legislature created the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission and gave the agency broad powers to adopt rules necessary for the implementation and enforcement

Radicalized elders turn to drug smuggling.

Good article by Elisabeth Weil in today's N.Y. Times re: groups of elders who engage in illegal prescription drug reimportation. The piece is entitled "Grumply Old Drug Smugglers."

Harvard Medical amends conflict-of-interest policies

Trend-setter Harvard Medical School has amended its conflict policy for researchers, acording to an article in The Boston Globe.Under the policy, Harvard faculty cannot own more than $30,000 in stock from public companies that benefit from their research, a $10,000 increase from the previous limit. They cannot have any stock from companies with which they have ongoing research collaborations. In

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Monkey business affects waiting times on transplant list in Albany.

Modern Healthcare's Daily Dose is reporting (alternate link) that yesterday the New York Health Department "fined Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center Hospital $18,000 for falsely reporting patient information in its heart-transplant program. The state accused the 576-bed academic medical center of exaggerating the seriousness of patient conditions to move transplant candidates higher on the transplant

Maternal-fetal conflicts: a moving target.

The Associated Press had a good article this week on a raft of recent cases in which authorities of one kind or another have come into conflict with pregnant women and the decisions they made concerning childbirth. Here's a link to the CNN publication of the story, which should be pretty stable for the next few months or years.

Interesting intersection of universal health care coverage, same-sex marriage, and domestic-partners' benefits

There is an Associated Press story out (published in today's Portsomouth (N.H.) Herald) about my hometown, Springfield, Mass. The article reports that Springfield is dropping health benefits for same-sex unmarried domestic partners of city employees. Cost is an obvious culprit, but there is also the issue of Massachusetts' decision to allow same-sex marriages. Now that this option is legally

Physician-Assisted Suicide.

I am no great fan of legalizing physician-assisted suicide (PAS). But once a state has gone down that road, as Oregon has with its Death With Dignity law, it's exceedingly important for the federal government to get out of the way and not impose its pro-life political stance on states that see things a little differently. Just as this administration has done with California's experiment with

Prisoner Abuse and Doctors' Duty.

Over the past few years, a couple of medical journals have quite regularly published articles on the torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees and the duty of physicians. Among the most active on this topic have been JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, Lancet, and BMJ; a PubMed search for articles with "torture" in the title turns up 589 hits. Until now, it's been easy to dismiss those

Monday, May 17, 2004

Texas Supreme Court decides informed-consent case.

In one of its famously tardy decisions (argued April 23, 2003; decided May 7, 2004), the Texas Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Owen (frequently the author of famously tardy opinions), unanimously held last week in Binur v. Jacobo, No. 02-0405, that "an erroneous prognosis that is the basis for recommending surgery cannot be the basis of a cause of action for lack of informed consent."

Saturday, May 8, 2004

IRS ruling a template for hospital-physician deals.

As reported yesterday by Modern Healthcare, the IRS has issued Revenue Ruling 2004-51, which lays out the ground rules for nonprofit health care providers who want to go into ancillary joint ventures with for-profit entities. According to the story:The five-page revenue ruling offers a template for how not-for-profit hospitals can protect their tax-exempt status and avoid paying

Friday, May 7, 2004

Schiavo timeline and significant documents.

Thanks are due to professors Steven Haidar and Kathy Cerminara for putting together a most useful timeline for the Schiavo case. My only suggestion for an additional citation is to the actual session law version of Terri's Law: chapt. 2003-418. The timeline is otherwise an altogether admirable and useful attempt to pull together everything a person might want to know about the history of this

Thursday, May 6, 2004

"Terri's Law" declared unconstitutional by Florida court.

It didn't seem possible that the case could come out any other way, but at least it's now official. On Wednesday, Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird of the Circuit Court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in and for Pinellas County declared that the hastily enacted Terri's Law (chapt. 2003-418), which authorized Gov. Jeb Bush to issue an executive order directing that artificial nutrition and hydration

Limits on Stem-Cell Research Re-emerge as a Political Issue.

A month before the attacks on September 11, President Bush made the first major speech of his presidency, in which he announced the administration's new policy on federal funding for stem-cell research. The new policy significantly modified (PDF) (HTML) the NIH guidelines (PDF) (HTML) (corrected Nov. 21 (PDF) (HTML)) hammered out by NIH Director Harold Varmus in the waning days of the Clinton

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Quality of care lacking in a majority of communities in US.

Another article from the May-June issue of Health Affairs that is sure to create some buzz:"Profiling The Quality Of Care In Twelve Communities: Results From The CQI Study," by Eve A. Kerr, Elizabeth A. McGlynn, John Adams, Joan Keesey and Steven M. Asch.
Abstract: Health care quality falls far short of its potential nationally. Because care is delivered locally, improvement strategies should be

Texas Leads Nation in Percentage of Uninsured Workers.

As reported in today's New York Times, Texas leads the nation (again) in the percentage of its population without health insurance, with 27 percent. For a measure of the financial strains on health care institutions and providers in the Deep South and Southwest generally, the national honor roll of states with the highest percentage of uninsured includes, in order: Texas (27%), Louisiana (23%),

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Two must-read articles in the current issue of Health Affairs.

"How Does the Quality of Care Compare in Five Countries?," by Peter S. Hussey, Gerard F. Anderson, Robin Osborn, Colin Feek, Vivienne McLaughlin, John Millar and Arnold Epstein -- 23(3):89-99.
Abstract: International data on quality of medical care allow countries to compare their performance to that of other countries. The Commonwealth Fund International Working Group on Quality Indicators

HHS/CMS effort to silence CMS' chief actuary probably violated federal law.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's Daily Health Policy Report has done an excellent job in today's report rounding up the various strands of the story about the squelching of CMS' chief actuary:The Congressional Research Service on Monday concluded that Bush administration officials "appear to have violated federal law" by barring CMS chief actuary Richard Foster from sharing with lawmakers his cost

Friday, April 30, 2004

U of Wash update.

One interesting aspect of the qui tam case, the settlement of which was announced this morning, is that the "plaintiff" (technically, the qui tam relator) was their former compliance officer.

The Seattle Times has updated its story, to reflect the actual settlement announcement this morning.

The complaint, which was filed under seal in 1999 and released today, is here.

Qui tam action against Univ. of Washington teaching hospital settles for $35 million

Assuming the Seattle Times got it right in their article this morning, the pending announcement of a settlement in the False Claims Act suit against them is the final chapter in an appalling tale of lawlessness on the part of a pillar of the Seattle health-care community:[W]hen [a 1996 compliance] program was put into place, auditors found rampant errors. Doctors were routinely overbilling

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Bioethics novels.

Just came across this author profile from the April 18th edition of The Providence Journal. I don't know if Jodi Picoult's books are any good, but I plan to find out this summer. From a bioethics perspective, the most promising appear to be the recently published My Sister's Keeper (producing offspring in order to have a marrow donor for another child), Mercy (euthanasia), and Second Glance (

Monday, April 26, 2004

ER care being triaged at University of Colo. Hosp. in Boulder.

It doesn't seem like much of a story until you read the details. But, acording to a piece in today's Washington Post, hospitals like the University of Colorado Hospital are no longer providing unreimbursed nonemergency care through their ER. The change is potentially enormous.

To begin with: "As the provider of last resort, hospital emergency departments across America have for decades

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The New York Times: "Administration Says a `Zone of Autonomy' Justifies Its Secrecy on Energy Task Force"

Couldn't help noticing this headline in today's Times. Too bad this Administration isn't equally eager to protect the "zone of autonomy" when it comes to the decisional choices of pregnant women, dying patients possessing and using medical marijuana pursuant to doctors' orders that are perfectly legal under California law, physicians who prescribe medications for terminally ill patients

Do poets die young(er)?

According to a study published in the Journal of Death Studies, the answer is yes. (See this Reuters article for the full story). Many news sources reported this story with what seemed to me to be unseemly glee, but no matter. Statistically, it's hard to say whether this study proves anything. Correlation, we all know, is not causation. Thus there are many possible explanations for the

Gov. Romney won't let gay outsiders wed in Massachusetts.

It seems the Bay State has a statute that dates back to 1913 prohibiting out-of-state couples from marrying if their marriage would be void in their home state (see the report in this morning's New York Times). Governor Mitt Romney is directing revisions to local marriage forms so that home states can be identified. Meantime, he plans to write to every governor in the country and ask for

Saturday, April 24, 2004

More medical hoax sites on the WWW

I noted earlier (here and here) the masterful fake cloning Web site in connection with (but with no reference to) the new film, Godsend. Turns out this isn't the first one. Another was posted in connection with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Lacuna Inc.). And then there's

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Google Search: cloning

The fake cloning site is well done in a spooky kind of way. And if you type "cloning" into the Google search window, you get a sponsored link to the Godsend Institute website at the top of the page. Considering what's on the web these days, it's hard to get all lathered up over this hoax, but it still bothers me in a vague, undefined way. . . .

Godsend Institute.

If you want to see a movie promotion site that is over the top, but fascinating, check out the site for the new DeNiro move, Godsend.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Infectious disease . . . and the duty to treat: what are the limits?

I recently did a piece for the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal on the duty (and the limits to that duty) of health care professionals to respond to an infectious disease even at a considerable risk to the responder. Today's N.Y. Times Magazine has an article that does a nice job of the epidemiology and the ethics issues related to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Health care and IT.

Steve Pearlstein has a good piece in today's Washington Post on the failure, so far, of the health care sector to jump on the information-technology bandwagon (resulting in much waste and worse: avoidable death and injury). His analysis of the problem seems right on the money:So why has health care almost uniquely failed to invest in IT? First, the industry remains fragmented, with few entities

Saturday, April 10, 2004

HR 3108 signed into law

As stated by the White House Press Secretary, the President signed into law the pension law discussed here earlier today and yesterday, which includes the provision that purports to -- but may not quite -- kill the antitrust challenge to the resident match program.

April 10, 2004
STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARYOn Saturday, April 10, 2004, the President signed into law:
H.R. 3108, the '

Parkland's not the only one . . . .

According to a story in today's N.Y. Times, the Westchester County government has created a committee to monitor the public county hospital's weak finances. Though the losses appear to be much greater in Westchester than in Dallas, the political rhetoric is familiar:The new "financial improvement committee" will give county officials greater power and control over the beleaguered medical center,

More on the pension bill that may kill the antitrust challenge to The Match.

AP has picked up the story that first appeared yesterday in Modern Healthcare. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the about-to-become-public-law would actually apply to the pending lawsuit, in light of its statement that "Nothing in this section shall be construed to exempt from the antitrust laws any agreement on the part of 2 or more graduate medical education programs to fix the

Friday, April 9, 2004

Antitrust challenge to the residency match may be about to bite the dust.

Modern Healthcare is reporting that a Conference Committee-added provision of "the Pension Funding Equity Act [H.R. 3108] could end a 2-year-old antitrust challenge of the National Resident Matching Program. . . . President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law next week."

The law was passed by Congress on Thursday. The last-minute provision -- Section 207 -- exempts residency matching

More on drugs: Reimportation.

Chuck Grassley can be a royal pain sometimes, but this time the Republican Senator from Iowa, may have done something useful. Yesterday, he introduced S. 2307, a bill entitled, "Reliable Entry for Medicines at Everyday Discounts through Importation with Effective Safeguards Act of 2004." I thought this title confirmed that weird bill names have hit an all-time high (or low) until I read his

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Drug costs redux.

Who knows? Maybe drug costs will be the leading edge of a health-care reform movement that drags the country, kicking and screaming, into universal coverage (maybe single-payer, but probably not). Lord knows we are working overtime trying to figure out how to make drugs affordable, or it least make it look as though we are trying to make drugs affordable.

The Medicare reform law last fall [

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Been down so long, it looks like up to me.

I'm not sure where the time goes sometimes, and it comes as a bit of shock that I haven't posted to this space in well over a week. The fact is, these puppies take some time to put together, and the last few weeks have been chockablock with writing and speechifying. Not that I expect any sympathy . . .

Since I've been gone:DHHS' OIG has issued its long (long, long) awaited final Stark II,

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Medicare: belly up or double down?

The scary news out of DC last week was from the Medicare Board of Trustees, whose 2004 Annual Report predicted that the middle-class health insurance benefit for retirees and others would go belly-up by 2019. Ellen Beck of UPI did a nice job of analyzing the dire predictions, which are less dire than the Administration would like to have you believe. Paul Krugman of the N.Y. Times added a

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Backs Privacy of Hospital Abortion Records

As reported by the N.Y. Times today, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (in Chicago) became the first appellate court to uphold the right of hospitals to refuse to turn over abortion information to the Bush Administration's Justice Department. The opinion is here. The district court quashed the government's subpoena for Northwestern's abortion records on the ground that HIPAA does

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

SCOTUS heard oral arguments in the Texas HMO case today.

As previously discussed here (Nov. 3 and Nov. 6), SCOTUS has two taken two Texas cases, both decided (with two others) in a single Fifth Circuit opinion. The cases involve tort claims under the Texas health care liability statute, which the HMOs argue is completely preempted by ERISA. Oral argument was today. My short piece in Mealey's Managed Care Liability Report is here (requires Lexis/

Sunday, March 21, 2004

One Crucial Issue in Pledge Case: What Does "Under God" Mean?

In addition to this key question -- which Linda Greenhouse's article in today's NY Times summarizes nicely -- there is a tricky little standing question as well. Seems Michael Newdow, the plaintiff, isn't married to the student's mother and isn't the custodial parent, either. So does he have standing to sue the school district to stop the pledge? The briefs make fascinating reading (for

Law profs weigh in on Scalia's recusal decision.

Interesting piece in today's NY Times: 6 law profs grade Scalia's 21-page memorandum opinion denying the motion of the Sierra Club to recuse himself from the Cheney case. Ther's no actual grade or even conclusion, but reading between the lines, three seem to give a passing grade (Ed White, David Lubet, Ron Rotunda) and three give him an "F" (Monroe Freedman, Stephen Gillers, James Moliterno).

Saturday, March 20, 2004

More on Scalia's recusal refusal.

Much has been made in the days following Scalia's memorandum opinion denying Sierra Club's motion to recuse about "the appearance of impropriety or bias." I agree that appearances matter, and that Supreme Court justices should strive mightily to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or bias. But if "appearance" is what a well-oiled publicity machine can get a dozen editorial-page writers to

More on the "F-word"

The FCC can't have the last word, now, can it?

CMS issues guidance for exceptions to specialty-hospital moratorium.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Friday that it had issued a clarification of its "moratorium on physician investment in and referrals to certain specialty hospitals. Under the moratorium, a physician may not refer a patient to a specialty hospital in which he has an ownership or investment interest, and the hospital may not bill Medicare or any other entity for

Bush Medicare Reform Bill Become a Nightmare for GOP.

Excellent summary of the Medicare reform-law mess in today's Miami Herald. Up-to-date details on all pending investigations, and this observation:But less than four months after he signed it into law on Dec. 8, Bush's Medicare-reform dream has turned into a nightmare and a potential drag on his bid for re-election.

-- The Bush administration deliberately didn't tell Congress that the measure

Times editorial on administration's phony TV ads.

The Times ran an editorial today to make a point you would have thought did not to be made: that it's wrong for the government to create fake news clips -- replete with fake reporters ending their fake news stories with the fake signoff, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting" -- so that gullible local news directors will run the tapes on the nightly news programs without realizing they are

Medicare Actuary Gives Wanted Data to Congress.

The NY Times reports today that on Friday Richard Foster turned over the data that shows the actual projected costs of the Medicare reform law signed into law last fall by Pres. Bush, months after it had been requested by Congress, after being ordered (Foster claims) not to give Congress the data before it voted. An inquiry is planned into Tom Scully's alleged role in plying Congress with

Friday, March 19, 2004

"F"-word illegal on broadcast airwaves (can cable be far behind?) . . .

. . . or, "Farewell, Tony Soprano. It was fun while it lasted."WARNING: Mature Content Follows. Read at your own risk.The FCC handed down its decision Thursday in the case of the NBC stations' broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards in January 2003, at which Bono (lead singer for U2) accepted his award with the immortal words, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant. Really, really great."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Scalia responds to recusal motion: fuggeddaboudit!

His 21-pg. memorandum explaining why he won't recuse is here. Instant pundits can be expected to opine that any recusal suggestion (or motion, as this was styled) that takes 21 pages to be denied is a recusal suggestion that should be granted. No fan of Justice Scalia's legal positions, I have to concede that he makes a very good argument for staying in the case. Not only are many of the

Volunteers in Medicine Institute

A former student is working (pro bono, of course) to help set up a free medical clinic in a Dallas suburb. The hope is that by creating a clinic that can deal with the primary-care needs of the uninsured, they can take some of the pressure (and expense) off local emergency rooms, which are struggling to meet their EMTALA (anti-dumping) obligation to provide a appropriate medical screening for

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

DOD funds Swedish stem cell study.

Reuters and others reported Wednesday that the Department of Defense was awarding $240,000 in research grant money to Swedish researchers looking for a treatment for Parkinson's and similar illnesses. As long as the stem cell lines involved in the study were in existence before the Pres. Bush's August 2001 announcement of federal stem-cell funding policy, nothing would appear to be amiss in this

Lots of new stuff on the political intrigue surrounding the Medicare reform bill.

The Times is really working this story. Here's what is in Thursday's issue:A story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear on "a mysterious fax" received a House Democratic health policy aide (Cybele Bjorklund) that showed the CMS chief actuary's (Richard Foster's) real cost estimate for the reform bill:Dated June 11, 2003, the document put the cost at $551.5 billion over 10 years. It appeared to

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Beyond Human (President' Council on Bioethics).

In his recent article for Slate, Carl Elliott notes:Leon Kass, the University of Chicago social theorist and bioethicist, has had the misfortune to chair the President's Council on Bioethics under a man who inspires more revulsion among academics than any president since Richard Nixon. Last week, 170 academic bioethicists sent a petition to President Bush protesting the dismissal of two members

2 ministers charged in gay marriages

As reported in the Boston Globe and elsewehere, Ulster County (NY) DA Donald Williams has filed criminal charges against two Unitarian-Universalist ministers who have performed same-sex marriages in New Paltz. The DA's office explained that the basis of the charges was that the ministers "proclaimed their intent to perform civil marriages under the authority vested in them by New York state law,

Jerome Groopman profile in NY Times

Jerome Groopman is a top AIDS cancer researcher and clinician, but more to the point, he's a gifted writer of clinical narratives and other essays for The New Yorker. His first two books provided the inspiration for the short-lived TV series, Gideon's Crossing. His latest book, The Anatomy of Hope, is a good read. And he's profiled in today's NY Times.

Medicare-reform shenanigans.

Good editorial in today's NY Times about both elements of the Bush Administration's fraudulent campaign last fall to sell Congress on the Medicare-reform bill:An Orwellian taint is emerging in the Bush administration's big victory last year in wringing the Medicare prescription drug subsidy from a balky Congress. The plan is being sold to the public through propagandistic ads disguised as TV news

Monday, March 15, 2004

More on same-sex marriage.

Here's a good letter to the editor printed in the Chicago Tribune last week (thanks to Bill Bridge for passing this along):

Dangerous unions

Jackie Bruns
Published March 8, 2004

Clarendon Hills -- Here are reasons why same-sex marriages will ruin society:

- Heterosexual marriages are valid because they produce children. That's why infertile couples and old people

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Body Parts Suit Enters Murky Area of the Law

The LA Times provides some legal and ethical analysis of the class action against UCLA in connection with the criminal charges against the managers of its willed-body program.

White House, GOP forced to take a new look at importing drugs from Canada.

The San Francisco Chronicle provides some detail on the movement within the Administration and GOP leaders on the drug-reimportation issue, which was key to getting a vote on the nomination of Mark McClellan to head CMS.

McClellan Is Approved as CMS head.

Ceci Connolly reports that Senate confirmed FDA head Mark McClellan (son of the Texas State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan) to head up the federal Medicare/Medicaid agency. The quid pro quo for the confirmation was an understanding that HHS/CMS/FDA would work toward a loosening up of current restrictions on the reimportation of

Inquiry Sought for Charge of Threat Over Medicare Data.

Robert Pear will have an article in Sunday's NY Times on the call of House Democrats for an inquiry in reports that the top actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was ordered by his boss to withhold cost data on the Medicare reform bill passed last fall. Background on the story is here.

Salt Lake County case raises fundamental questions, ethicists, politicians warn.

The bioethicists are starting to weigh in on the murder prosecution for the woman who refused to consent to a C-section.

"Being Human" - humanities reader from the President's Council on Bioethics

Being Human -- published in December by the President's Council and available for free through their web site (1 copy per order) -- is described in Edward Rothstein's review in today's NY Times as possibly "the most unusual document ever produced by any government panel":Last month the first cloned human embryo was produced by South Korean scientists who said they would continue their research

Friday, March 12, 2004

Rx reform bill: Medicare expert says he was told to withhold true cost info.

As reported in a copyrighted story in The Philadelphia Inquirer today, the Medicare program's top actuary -- traditionally a nonpartisan expert whose numbers are freely accessible by legislators on both sides of the aisle -- claims that he was ordered during last fall's debate not to reveal the true cost estimates for the Bush Administration's Medicare reform bill's prescription drug benefit or

NEJM -- Bioethics and the Political Distortion of Biomedical Science.

NEJM e-published early a Perspective piece by Elizabeth Blackburn on the President's Council on Bioethics: Bioethics and the Political Distortion of Biomedical Science. Much of it appears to be a recital of facts and arguments presented in her earlier Washington Post piece. The PDF is apparently available to the public, not just subscribers, for free. Early, wide, and full-text dissemination

Wife-poisoner hired as medical-ethics lecturer.

The University of Manchester has hired a medical-ethics lecturer who served 7 years for trying to poison his wife (and then tried to cover his tracks by poisoning drinks in a Safeway supermarket). Here's the quote I love (from medical ethics lecturer Piers Benn of Imperial College London) in the Reuters report on this story:"Normally people who get into moral philosophy do so because they care

Maternal-fetal conflict results in murder charge against mother.

Perhaps I should reserve judgment until more facts come to light, but it is certainly a shock to see that a Salt Lake County woman has been charged with murdering her stillborn son because of her refusal to follow her doctor's recommendation and have her twins delivered by C-section. See news story and follow-up (The Salt Lake Tribune -- Charge against W. Jordan mother creates legal challenge).

Same-sex marriages, redux.

As reported this morning in, inter alia, the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the state's attorney general) has ordered San Francisco officials to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. See Lockyer v. City & County of San Francisco, No. S122923 (Mar. 11, 2004): order to show cause; Lewis v. Alfaro, No. S122865 (Mar. 11, 2004): order

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cadaveric donation - ethical issues.

The June 1, 2003, issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics was devoted to the topic of cadaveric organ, tissue, and body donations. Most of the articles are focused on organ donation/transplantation, but there are also a couple of pieces on the market for cadaveric tissue.

Donated cadavers . . . the UCLA saga.

The scandal at UCLA Medical School over the unlawful sale of body parts from willed cadavers raises numerous questions. The NY Times hits a few on Friday with these articles:

"In Science’s Name, Lucrative Trade in Body Parts," by John Broder:About 10,000 Americans will their bodies to science each year, choosing a path that, in the popular imagination at least, leads to the clinical dignity of

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Texas Company Removes Web List of Malpractice Plaintiffs.

The obnoxious and seriously misguided web site that alerted docs to the names of med mal plaintiffs has been shuttered, according to an article by Ralph Blumenthal, who broke the story in the NY Times last week. Good riddance of bad garbage.

Government Accounting Office again proves its worth.

As reported in an article in Thursday's NY Times by Robert Pear, Congress' watchdog agency, the GAO, reported Wednesday that the Bush Administration's ads last year misrepresented the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Nice to seem some recognition of the intellectually corrupt campaign waged by the Bushites on this issue, though I am not at all persuaded the mendacity was different in degree


This has nothing to do with health law, con law, or anything else this blawg cares about, but I was struck by this entry on Gregg Easterbrook's blog (Easterblogg):AND THERE'S A LONG SLOW-MOVING LINE IN EVERY ONE OF THEM: Starbucks now has 167 outlets within 20 miles of the White House, 219 stores within 20 miles of the Space Needle in Seattle, and 242 locations within 20 miles of the Empire State

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Recess appointments: Is the Pryor appointment constitutional?

Ted Kennedy has written to the sitting judges on the 11th Circuit and suggested they might consider this question sua sponte, before Judge Pryor sits on a panel that decides a case that is then challenged on the ground that Pryor's appointment was an unlawful exercise of the President's recess appointment power under Article II, section 2, para. 3. Here's some reading you can do on the subject:

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Blackmun redux.

NPR has collected all of its reports (by Nina Totenberg) on the release of Harry Blackmun's papers in one place, and packaged them with previous interviews and other materials.PBS' NewsHour ran excerpts from Harold Koh's 38-hour oral-history interviews with Harry Blackmun.Linda Greenhouse's two articles ran in the NY Times ran on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

Norval Morris dead at 80.

Norval Morris, an author whose Brothel Boy stories have played an important part in my Law, Literature and Medicine course for many years, has died at the age of 80. The best obituary on him so far was in The New York Times, but the difficulty of finding a stable link to that article has sent me to The Seattle Times, which ran the Times' obit in full. Morris was an extraordinarily gifted writer

Saturday, March 6, 2004

A 'Full Range' of Bioethical Views Just Got Narrower (

Tomorrow's Outlook section of the Washington Post has the following article by Elizabeth Blackburn, the recently fired member of the President's Council on Bioethics. (The link will only work for 14 days.) Other material on this story can be found here, here, and here.

Friday, March 5, 2004

NY Times' second installment on the Blackmun papers.

Discussed at SCOTUSblog. I will have a complete set of links this weekend.

Just when you thought you'd heard it all.

Ralph Blumenthal's article in today's NY Times is certainly making the e-mail rounds today. It's about a website that lists medical malpractice plaintiffs and can be accessed by physicians who might decide they don't want to provide medical care to someone who has sued a doctor or hospital in the past. The website, most of which is off-limits to nonmembers is here. I have to admit, when I read

Drug testing in third-world countries.

In an article in today's NY Times, Gina Kolata explores the ethical issues confronting pharmaceutical manufacturers who test drugs in second- and third-world countries.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Justice Blackmun's papers released.

Fascinating pieces at SCOTUSblog on the NY Times and NPR stories based on the about-to-be-released papers of Justice Harry Blackmun. Check out:NPR story 1NPR story 2NY Times storiesfull scripts for all the stories Nina Totenberg will be doing about the papers for NPR

Most excellent: U.S. Department of Faith's proposed Federal Marriage Amendment(s)

This is one great site. Have to see it to believe it.

More on the Bioethics Council firings.

Ordinarily Leon Kass could expect to find some support for his actions from the journal Reason (subtitled "Free Minds, Free Markets"), but not when it comes to his op-ed piece in the Washington Post this week: "Leon Kass Learns to Spin". Does the President's Council on Bioethics have a shred of credibility after this sorry affair? I don't think so, and that's a shame.

Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA): Outlook Cloudy.

Today's Washington Post has some encouraging tidbits if you share my lack of enthusiasm for the Bush-endorsed FMA. In a story about the politics of gay marriage, Alan Cooperman and Dana Milbank report:In Washington, the Senate held a contentious hearing on whether to amend the Constitution to restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who presided over

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Chairman Kass responds to charge that Bioethics Council deck is being stacked.

Leon Kass wrote a strong denial of the charge in a Washington Post op-ed today: "We Don't Play Politics With Science". Among other things, Dr. Kass spins the personnel shakeup as one that is based on neutral principles, but the spin doctor may have gotten out ahead of the facts on this one. For example, he writes that Bill May wasn't pushed off the Council: he had expressed a desire to leave.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Rationing in America.

For those few Americans who still believe that rationing is what the health care systems in Canada and the UK do, but not us, a subscription to the Wall Street Journal would be a real eye-opener. The Journal's been running stories about health-care rationing in the US for the past 6 months and has them collected on the home page of its special health care edition. The titles include:

• Six

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Bush Ejects Two From Bioethics Council.

The President's Council on Bioethics lost two members yesterday and gained three, but in the process it lost *any* credibility it had as a source of public policy formulation. As reported in the Washington Post this morning, Bill May (my colleague here at SMU for the better part of 20 years, before his semi-retirement to Virginia last year) and Elizabeth Blackburn got their walking papers from