Your dog can get vaccinated against Lyme disease, but you can’t. Thanks for nothing, anti-vaxxers and trial lawyers! [Brian Resnick, Vox; earlier] The article touches only briefly on the role of lawyers and litigation in this episode, but it’s been documented at more length by, among others, Paul Offit in his book The Cutter Incident.
- Burdensome though it is in other ways, HIPAA does not create a private right of action, so no big-ticket damage suits. Connecticut high court rides to rescue by creating new tort for breach of medical confidentiality [Steven Boranian, Drug and Device Law]
- Details of cases aside, once again, should federal law really be requiring healthcare employers to grant religious exemptions to staff unwilling to undergo flu vaccination? [Department of Justice press release on suit against Ozaukee County, Wisconsin; earlier on EEOC settlement against North Carolina hospital]
- First Amendment should come into play when FDA bans drug providers from making truthful statements about their therapies [Henry Miller and Gregory Conko, Reason] And a Cato panel discussion on FDA regulation of speech with former Vascular Solutions CEO Howard Root (author of “Cardiac Arrest”), Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute, and Jessica Flanigan of the University of Richmond, moderated by Cato’s Michael Cannon;
- “Uberizing Nonemergency Medical Transportation” [Ann Marie Marciarille, Prawfsblawg]
- “Protecting Reasonable Physician Choice in Medical Product Cases” [Luther Munford, Drug and Device Law]
- Britain’s National Health Service lurches toward crisis in negligence payouts [BBC, Paul Goldsmith, Centre for Policy Studies]
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced that Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C. will pay $89,000 for failing to accommodate employees “who declined flu vaccinations based on their religious beliefs.” [EEOC press release] Mission had in fact agreed to exempt employees from the flu shot based on religious objections, but required that they declare their intention ahead of time. And that turned out to be not accommodating enough, since not requiring that extent of advance notice would not in the EEOC’s view have posed an undue hardship on the employer — hence the expensive lesson.
At our religious discrimination tag can be found cases of employees who claimed a Title VII religious discrimination right not to serve alcoholic drinks as part of the duties of a flight attendant, not to haul beer as part of a job as a trucker, not to participate in an employer’s hand-scanner system for fear that it was connected to the Biblical “Mark of the Beast,” and to take prayer breaks in groups as large as 11 at an employer that did not think it could spare that many workers off the floor at the same time.
Under federal law enacted in 1972, employers regularly come under legal constraint to grant such accommodations to workers of many different religious sects. Although from much of the current debate one might imagine that liberals were historically skeptical of accommodation requirements, the actual history is more complicated. As I wrote a while back, “Surprisingly or otherwise, the pressure for federal law to become more indulgent toward private employees’ demands for religious accommodation [has] come both from liberal lawmakers like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and from conservatives like Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal.”
Under the elastic “undue hardship” standard, employers may face much uncertainty as to how much disruption of their business they must put up with in the name of accommodation. The flu-shot example suggests that risks to co-workers, customers, and the general public might sometimes enter the calculus as well — an expensive guessing game at best.
P.S. I’ve got a post at Cato making a related point: is it really libertarians who should catch flak for being too indulgent toward persons who want to be excused from vaccination?
“Reversing and remanding a $1.8 million jury verdict, the Second Circuit found Tuesday that Rite Aid was justified in firing a needle-phobic pharmacist who refused to administer immunizations.” [Courthouse News] The man’s trypanophobia — fear of needles — gave him a discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the Second Circuit ruled the evidence “compels a finding that immunization injections were an essential job requirement.” [Dan Schwartz]
Early reports that President-elect Donald Trump would pick longtime Overlawyered and personal favorite Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity — I am not making this up — appear to have been based on RFK, Jr.’s own account of his interaction with the President-elect, whose office promptly clarified that no such decision has been made. [Azeen Ghorayshi/BuzzFeed]
More: Seth Mnookin reviews the sad record on RFK and vaccines.
- Study of Type I, Type II error finds FDA much too conservative in drug approval [Vahid Montazerhodjat and Andrew Lo via Tabarrok]
- Behind push to license/regulate personal trainers in Washington, DC and elsewhere: ACA opened spigot of publicly channeled wellness money [Aaron Davis/Washington Post via Tyler Cowen, Peter Suderman]
- “Medical lending”: financiers “invest in operations to remove pelvic implants, [reap] payouts when cases settle” [Alison Frankel and Jessica Dye, Reuters]
- War on Some Drugs again collides with cancer therapy: “Psilocybin, it appears, targets this existential and spiritual distress.” [Ann Althouse]
- Citing First Amendment, federal court enjoins FDA from prohibiting truthful speech by drugmakers about off-label uses [WSJ, Alex Tabarrok (in recent years, federal government “has extracted billions of dollars in settlements from pharmaceutical firms for engaging in what appears to be constitutionally protected speech”), Beck and Sullivan, Drug & Device Law on Amarin v. FDA]
- SEIU 1199: “The union that rules New York” [Daniel DiSalvo/Stephen Eide, Daily Beast and City Journal]
- Controversial therapist who is also anti-vaccine expert witness loses court challenge to Maryland medical license revocation [Beck, Drug and Device Law]
- “Embattled Broward Health paid law firm $10.2 million; tab included a lawyer’s M&Ms” [Miami Herald]
- “Journalists were not very interested in the areas of vaccine policy that are actually debatable. They just wanted to find fools and laugh at them.” [Matt Welch]
- Wider access to pharmaceutically based drug rehabilitation may be sound policy. But is it compelled by the ADA? [Huffington Post via @sbagen]
- Kamala Harris carries water for the SEIU in a hospital deal, and Californians are the losers [John Cochrane]
- Drug case: “Hagens Berman argument ‘gives new meaning to frivolous,’ judge says; sanctions imposed” [ABA Journal]
- California: Kaiser Permanente “ordered to pay woman more than $28 million” [L.A. Times]
- “Bacteria can evolve. So can McDonald’s. Maybe federal policymakers can as well, before it’s too late.” [Steve Chapman]
- War on painkillers finds new casualty in ailing veterans [Washington Post, Brian Doherty]
- “Woman says ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ lube doesn’t deliver, should be registered with FDA” [Legal NewsLine]
- “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Twisted Anti-Vaxx History” [Russell Saunders, Daily Beast back in July]
- Using antitrust law, New York seeks to force maker to go on producing older formulation of drug [Ilya Shapiro on Cato brief in Second Circuit] Courts have mostly rejected claims of a duty to supply grounded in obligation to patients [James Beck, Drug & Device Law]
- “Patients see [biotech] startups and hope for a cure. Too many lawyers see them and hope for a payday.” [Standish M. Fleming, WSJ]
- Argument that policymakers undervalue pharmaceutical aids to heroin rehabilitation [Jason Cherkis]
- After suing the obvious defendants in New England Compounding Pharmacy contamination case, lawyers started in on the less obvious [Drug and Device Law, background on regulation-spurred rise of compounding pharmacies]
Within the past 72 hours most of the energy on measles and vaccination has moved into hating the opposite Red or Blue team, so at least that’s normalized.
The problem would be a much easier one if only one side were implicated, though. As one who focuses on the legal system, I’ve written mostly about the role of litigation in hampering immunization [Overlawyered, Point of Law coverage over the years] with occasional attention to the role of America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure®, attorney and Rolling Stone anti-vax author Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
But it isn’t just the legal system, nor is it just one side of familiar ideological conflicts. “Look closely at these poll numbers before you decide you know which ‘side’ is at fault in the vaccination debate,” notes author Terry Teachout. It’s politicians from both parties, along with various commentators and organizations from both the less-government and the more-government side of the spectrum. If you’re not ready to acknowledge harms done by people on your “own” side (left, right, libertarian, traditionalist or whatever) you’re probably not helping the vaccination debate.
At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf makes a case for friendly persuasion over TwitterShaming, channeling the spirit of a letter by children’s author Roald Dahl that has been much noted in recent days.
More: Richard Epstein via Roger Pilon (against common-law-will-work-things-out wishful thinking: “It is sheer fantasy to think that individuals made ill could bring private lawsuits for damages against the parties that infected them, or that persons exposed to imminent risk could obtain injunctive relief against the scores of persons who threaten to transmit disease. The transmission of disease involves hidden and complex interconnections between persons that could not be detected in litigation, even assuming that it could be brought in time, which it cannot.”)