Conference Covers Patient Care Pandemics and Health Policy Reform Paradigms
July 5, 2008 — Nearly 200 scholars discussed medical research gone awry, prospects for reforming the health-care system and emerging issues in bioethics, among other topics at the 31st Annual Health Law Professors Conference at the Earle Mack School of Law.
The conference, held June 5-7 and sponsored by the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics, brought together professors who teach in schools of law, medicine, public health, health-care administration, pharmacy, nursing and dentistry.
The annual event allows professors to keep abreast of current trends and translate complex scientific and policy issues into lively topics of discussion, said Barry Furrow, professor of law and director of the Health Law Concentration at the Earle Mack School of Law.
“How do you teach this stuff and bring it to life for students,” Furrow said. “How do you give it context and personality?”
A plenary session on health policy addressed the mix of political and economic factors that impinge on efforts to promote universal health insurance and improved patient care.
“The political history has been all about coverage, all about insurance restructuring,” said Bill Sage, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin, a physician and a policy advisor to former President Bill Clinton. “What we really need to embark on is changing the way that people get their preventive care, they way that people engage in health as community projects, as school projects and the way that, if they do get ill, the health care system responds.”
Sidney Watson, of the Saint Louis University School of Law, said reforms will only come about if advocates “bust myths” and educate policymakers and voters about the legitimate need for public funding.
Contending the current system improperly limits services that some patients can receive, Ani Satz, associate professor at Emory University School of Law and Rollins School of Public Health outlined a new paradigm for change. Satz proposed a system that would cover all services without restriction while placing an annual or lifetime cap on health care expenditures incurred by any one patient.
Another session addressed issues in biomedical research, including dilemmas faced by researchers who unexpectedly discover medical conditions in human subjects that fall outside the scope of their studies.
“The incidental findings problem sounds incidental,” said Susan M. Wolf of the University of Minnesota Law School. “It is anything but. It goes right to the core of our thinking about researchers and clinicians. It challenges the line between them.”
Researchers have very little guidance for addressing this critical ethical issue, Wolf said, adding that vast volumes of data that accumulate through genomic research will only increase the need to create protocols.
The conference culminated with a reception and dinner at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Wendy Mariner, professor at Boston University’s schools of law, medicine and public health, received the Jay Healey Distinguished Health Law Teaching Award. Clark Havighurst, professor emeritus at Duke Law School, was honored with a lifetime achievement award in teaching.
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