Public health in the digital era part 2: the top 8 digital tools for health researchers

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Sometimes I fantasize about research before the Internet. I would’ve walked to the library to find cases in physical copies of the law reports, and read books made out of actual trees. Sure, it would’ve been slow and time consuming, but perhaps more manageable than the constant onslaught of facts and figures bombarding today’s researchers.

Most days I realize how lucky I am to have access to such a wealth of information. What’s more, there are a wide range of tools to help us manage research in the digital era. But using these tools effectively means customizing content to your interests.  Remember: rubbish in = rubbish out. Read More

Posted in Resources;


All Religious Beliefs are Equal, But Some Religious Beliefs are More Equal than Others

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HobbyLast Monday, five justices of the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The basic outline of the case was already briefly discussed on this blog as well as in many many other locations.  In short, Hobby Lobby (and others) sued Health and Human Services (HHS) over the contraception mandate established under regulations to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Five members of the Supreme Court decided that the mandate violated statutory law, and is thus null and void as relates to closely held corporations whose owners object on religious grounds. This leaves all women working for such closely held corporations in limbo in terms of whether they will be able to access a full range of contraceptive options for both family planning and health related concerns.

Importantly – and insufficiently discussed – is that this case does not concern the Constitution. Although Constitutional claims were brought by some of the parties, the Court didn’t consider them. In fact, the First Amendment’s free exercise clause jurisprudence would have found against Hobby Lobby. Instead, this case is purely about a statutory provision that created an enhanced accommodation protection for religious beliefs in the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA). As such, this decision will remain in place only so long as Congress chooses to keep it by not repealing or amending RFRA. If this were a First Amendment Case, seemingly these words from Justice Scalia in Employment Div. v Smith would be dispositive: Read More

Posted in Health reform, National Healthcare; Tagged: , , , .


The Supreme Court Deals a Blow to the Affordable Care Act and Access to Contraceptives

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HobbyThis morning the Supreme Court handed down its most anticipated decision of the term.Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Hobby Lobby Stores, et al. dealt with the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the contraceptive mandate established under regulations promulgated by HHS under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Supreme Court’s decision that closely-held corporations could not be compelled to provide contraceptives to their employees against the corporation’s religious beliefs may have far-reaching impacts on access to birth control, and could open the door for a wide range of corporate claims to religious exemptions. It also deals a symbolic blow to the ACA in the run-up to the contentious mid-term elections. This post summarizes the decision and its context. Watch the O’Neill Institute Blog this week for further analysis of the decision.

Hobby Lobby in Context

The ACA mandates that all employers with more than 50 full-time employees offer health insurance to these workers or pay a tax penalty. As part of this mandate, HHS established rules defining the basic package of services that must be provided as part of employer-provided health insurance. A required element of that package is coverage without any co-pay for all FDA-approved contraceptive devices, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraceptives (e.g. Plan B). Read More

Posted in Health reform, National Healthcare; Tagged: , .


Public health in our backyard: How would DC rank if it were a country?

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Flag_map_of_Washington_DCThose of us who work in global health too often forget about the burden of disease much closer to home. In an attempt to remind us of our own public health crises, this post will examine the public health landscape of the District of Columbia (home of the O’Neill Institute), asking the question: how would DC rank on public health measures if it were a separate country?


Maternal Mortality Rate

Rate: 41 deaths / 100,000 live births (2010)

Country: Moldova


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Posted in Global Health, National Healthcare; Tagged: , , , , , , .


New York’s Ban on Large Sodas Put to Rest in NY’s Highest Court

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busThis post was written by Fernanda Alonso, O’Neill Institute Research Assistant. Comments or questions about this post can be directed to  fa265@georgetown.edu.

On June 26, 2014, New York’s highest court refused to reinstate New York City’s ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugar drinks. This bill—passed on March 12, 2012 by eight members of the city’s health board—intended to prohibit the sale of many sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in volume (this includes sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened teas).[1] This implied that all restaurants, movie theatres, sports stadiums and food carts would be banned from selling these drinks in presentations larger than 16 oz.[2] On September 13, 2012, New York City’s Board of Health voted unanimously to accept the proposed limit, strongly supported both by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and later by his successor Mayor Bill de Blasio. The limit was to take effect six months after passage and be enforced by the city’s regular restaurant inspection team, allowing business owners three additional months to adapt to the changes before facing fines.[3]

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On the Pseudo-Science of the Organic Food Movement

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I should premise this entire post on food safety profiles of organic and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), by stating that you will find no heroes here nor any side to root for. Both the organic industry and the GMO industry have evolved substantial villains – some of whom are identifiable and some of whom are essentially nameless. In fact, increasingly, the organic and GMO industry – at least when it comes to processed foods – are owned by the same companies. Since the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) first instituted organic certification regulations, companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle, and others have embedded themselves within the organic market and consolidated it through mergers, acquisitions and other business arrangements. Meaning most processed organic food is brought to us by the same companies that deliver GMO. Likewise, organic farming is no longer limited to small independent farms, but has become the focus of major commercial farming operations.

But this post isn’t about the owners of the organic food market, but rather about the proponents of the organic industry and the increasingly pseudo-scientific and ideological strains in their advocacy. Recently, proponents of the industry such as Vani Hari – whose The Food Babe website is behind recent campaigns that targeted Subway over azodicarbonamide in their bread and Anheuser-Busch over ingredient labeling of beer – have found success utilizing spurious arguments, factually inaccurate assertions, and fear-mongering to attack major food producers. For good measure, Hari also dabbles in anti-vaccination advocacy whilst displaying a truly horrific understanding of how vaccination works, the safety profiles of vaccines, and the ingredients therein. While Hari has become a particularly visible face in this regard, she is far from alone (see: Adams, Mike).  While I don’t intend to refute these arguments here, I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the flaws summarized by others (azodicarbonamide, beer and vaccine, GMO study). Read More

Posted in FDA; Tagged: , , .


3 Reasons Anyone Interested in Health Law Should Join Our Summer Programs

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City skyline silhouette

There are many reasons to consider joining us for this year’s O’Neill Institute Summer Programs. Here are three:

1) Our topics are highly relevant to legal practitioners, policy-makers, and scholars, alike: Emerging Issues in Food and Drug Law (July 14-18) and US Health Reform – The Affordable Care Act (July 21-25). Our unique programs are structured to give you both depth and breadth in these topics in an efficient five-day format.

2) Jobs in both Food & Drug Law and Healthcare Law are on the rise. Look no further than articles like those featured in the Wall Street Journal, for some external market validation.

3) The O’Neill Institute is preeminent in Global Health Law, drawing leading experts from around the world. If you are going to invest in your professional development, why not do so by learning among and from the best?

If you are reading this blog post, it is highly likely that you already have a strong interest in public health, global health, health law and/or health policy. Consider getting deeper into these critically important issues by joining us this summer.

The O’Neill Institute Team is standing by and happy to answer any questions you might have.


Posted in Uncategorized;


New Certificates in Food and Drug Law and U.S. Health Law!

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Starting in Fall 2014 Georgetown Law will offer two new certificate programs in Food and Drug Law and U.S. Health Law.   The Certificate in Food and Drug Law or the Certificate in U.S. Health Law may be completed as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with an LL.M. in Global Health Law or the General LL.M. degree program. For more information and to apply, please visit the Goergetown Law website here.

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The 2014 World Cup: Scoring a goal for public health?

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Beginning today, Brazil will play host to the world’s most-watched sporting event, the football World Cup. 3.7 million Brazilian and foreign tourists are expected to travel throughout Brazil during the World Cup, and nearly half the world’s population is anticipated to tune in for the tournament. Some effects are intuitive: worker productivity plummets, while hungry (and thirsty) viewers consume more snacks and TV dinners. Less well explored are the World Cup’s public health impacts. This post summarizes some of the more significant public health issues posed by the Beautiful Game’s most important event.

1. Violence

 The emotional toll of a favorite team’s loss could be expected to lead to an uptick in violent crime. However, a British case study found that levels of domestic violence increased following both losses and wins. Similar results occur in relation to violent crime outside the home, with hooliganism and post-match violence taking place regardless of who wins the match. Violence at the 2014 World Cup could be exacerbated by FIFA’s insistence that beer “must be sold” in stadiums, forcing Brazil to overturn a 2003 liquor-free stadium law designed to promote public safety. (See below for John Oliver’s entertaining discussion of this issue, and others). Read More

Posted in Global Health; Tagged: , , , , , , .


7 things YOU can and SHOULD do to stop the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs

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 flemingThe time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration. Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X’s death? Why Mr. X whose negligent use of penicillin changed the nature of the microbe. Moral: If you use penicillin, use enough.

-Alexander Fleming,  Penicillin, Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1945

Dr. Fleming warned about the consequence of misusing antibiotics 70 years ago. Today, his caution is our reality. Misuse of antibiotics has led to a new era of antimicrobial resistance, causing panic among public health officials worldwide. The World Health Organization’s Antimicrobial Resistance Global Report on Surveillance warns that without drugs to treat virulent infections, we may be entering a post-antibiotic era where people die from something as simple as an infected scrape. Read More

Posted in FDA, Global Health, WHO; Tagged: , , , , .

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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