Headlines: December 30, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In legal news, challenges to the federal health reform law are changing their focus. While most of the challenges to the law had previously focused on the scope of Congress’ power under the commerce clause, the recent ruling by judge Henry Hudson of Virginia, highlighted concerns regarding the breadth of Congress’s power under the necessary and proper clause. The necessary and proper clause comes at the end of Article I, and allows Congress “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” In the context of the health reform law, the question is whether the individual insurance mandate must be a valid exercise of Congress’ commerce clause powers to be constitutional, or whether the necessary and proper clause will allow Congress to engage in a broader range of regulatory activity. So far, a large number of law professors and other interested parties have filed friend of the court briefs in an effort to influence judges’ interpretation of the necessary and proper clause as the health law litigation moves forward.
In safety news, a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine is raising questions about whether sleep deprived doctors should be performing elective surgeries. The authors argue that doctors who got less than six hours of sleep the night before owe it to their patients to let them know and to give them the option to postpone the surgery. According to the LA times, “Research has shown that there is an 83% increase in the risk of surgical complications for patients who undergo elective daytime procedures performed by surgeons who hadn't slept at least six hours the previous night while they were on call, Nurok and colleagues noted. A recent survey showed that 80% of patients would request a different doctor if they knew that their surgeon had been awake for 24 hours.” It remains to be seen whether hospitals will implement requirements for doctors to inform their patients of their sleeping habits, or whether doctors will begin voluntarily telling patients when they have missed sleep.
In research news, a study has illuminated a new approach to the placebo effect. The study found that when doctors prescribed placebos as part of a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and told the patients that the placebos had been found to “produce significant improvement in I.B.S. symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes,” that the placebos actually provided meaningful symptom relief. Patients who received the placebo had significantly better improvement in their symptoms than patients who were given no pill. The researchers aim to find a way to use the placebo effect ethically without misleading patients.
Finally, in other research news, the mouse virus XMRV is not linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. The Guardian quoted Mark Wainberg, editor of the open-access journal Retrovirology as saying, “Studies conducted by four completely independent research groups working around the globe have all reached the same conclusion: it is likely that the evidence for mouse virus found in human samples was due to contamination by mouse DNA.” The studies’ conclusions refute the findings of earlier work in the field, and are a significant setback in the search for ways to prevent, treat, or cure chronic fatigue syndrome.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.