Bioethics and the Law

Saturday morning featured a roundtable discussion entitled "Hot Topics in Bioethics and the Law."  The panel featured leadership from the Health Law Section, Section on Administrative Law, Bioethics Committee, and the Commission on Law and Aging.  Nanette Elster from the Section on Health Law led the discussion. 

Barbara Evans, of the Special Committee on Bioethics and the Law and a professor at the University of Houston, began by discussing ways that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorities could improve their effectiveness in finding products that are harmful to the consumer.  Evans discussed the Sentinel Database authorized by Congress, and that a similar system could be effective in the public health setting.  However, Bruce Wilder, of the ABA's Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, raised concerns with a large scale "public health database", saying that there would be "some privacy issues."  He suggested the possibility of an anonymous system, whereby government officials could still see the occurrence of sickness or death with products, but without the patient's name.  

Wilder went on to mention the numerous complaints against the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the need to focus on software modifications as an alternative to legislative measures.  "Health software could be modified to track some of this," said Wilder. 

The discussion then shifted to the legal and ethical controversies surrounding the recent octuplet births in California.  Participants discussed what role (if any) the government should play in reproductive rights.  Elster pointed out that the U.S. currently does not have any laws that put physicians in the role of "gatekeepers."  She also spoke about various religious groups, who have historically had very large families, such as Orthodox Jews and Mormons, and the ethical issues involved in attempting to regulate these groups' reproductive rights. 

Kayhan P. Parsi, Professor of Law at Loyola University in Chicago, also raised several ethical issues related to medical care. Specifically, the ethical dilemmas that doctors are faced with when performing procedures such as in vitro fertilization.  Parsi questioned the other members of the discussion on "what the goals of medicine should be?" and where the line is between "cultivating responsibility and doing your job as a clinician." 

The discussion session ended with a brief mention of the physician migration issue, where medical professionals from developing/third world countries are migrating from their own nations to the United States.  Some participants voiced concern about the lack of care available in these doctors' home nations and whether the United States has a moral responsibility to encourage them to work in their native countries.  Some panelists dismissed the notion of any moral responsibility, saying that these physicians are simply going where they can have the best lives "like the rest of us," and that until their home nations address the problem this phenomenon will continue to occur.

Spirit of Excellence Awards

Saturday afternoon featured a luncheon session to present the Spirit of Excellence Awards to "celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession."  The awards luncheon was sponsored by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity and the Profession."

Julius L. Chambers, of Charlotte, NC, received the first Spirit of Excellence Award.  Chambers began his legal career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc (LDF), which provided training for promising African American law graduates on civil rights litigation.  Chambers then started his own law practice, which eventually became Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham and Sumpter P.A.  Chambers and his partners worked with the LDF, litigated several landmark United States Supreme Court cases including Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), Albermarle Paper Co. v Moody (1974), and Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971).

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. of Harvard Law School also was honored with a Spirit of Excellence Award.  Ogletree has taught and written extensively on the relationship between race, justice and the law.  He is the author of From the Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America and All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education.  Ogletree also mentored both Michelle and Barack Obama while they attended Harvard Law School, and worked on the Obama presidential campaign. 

Spirit of Excellence awards also went to Senator Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii State Legislature; Joan Mei Haratani, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Richard A. Soden, Goodwin Proctor LLP; Chief Justice Daniel Sosa, Jr., Supreme Court of New Mexico; and William A. Von Hoene, Jr., Exelon Corporation.

ABA to Host Conference on State Courts

This May, in Charlotte, NC, the ABA will host a conference on "The Critical Role of Fair and Impartial State Courts."  The ABA held a planning meeting at this year's conference to discuss the logistics of the event and the speakers that will be in attendance.  Several ABA leaders, along with leadership from other groups such as the American Judicature Society (AJS) and Justice at Stake, were in attendance.  The event will feature several state governors and state supreme court justices.  The conference will discuss state funding issues, the relationship between the three branches, and how to insure fair and impartial state courts.