CWRU Law-Medicine Center conference looks at legal challenges in Precision Medicine Initiative

The Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in conjunction with the American Health Lawyers Association, will do a check-up on a new concept in patient care, precision medicine.

On Friday, April 7, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., the conference “Legal Challenges in Precision Medicine” will feature experts in law and medicine discussing the new trend, its medical potential, and potential legal roadblocks.

Many diseases do not have optimal means of prevention or treatment. Former President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), made public in January 2015, aimed to find new customized treatments so that better medical decisions can be made based on a patient’s genetics and other patient-specific factors.

Photo of Maxwell Mehlman

Maxwell Mehlman

“It’s about getting away from one-size-fits-all medicine and making medicine much more focused on the characteristics of the individual patient. That’s the ultimate dream,” said Maxwell Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law and director of the Law-Medicine Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

He said medical researchers and physicians know that clinical trials tend to identify a treatment for many, not for a few or one.

“In reality no two patients respond the same way to the same treatment,” Mehlman said. “There are slight differences. Some of those differences are dependent on the patient’s genetics.”

A featured speaker is Carolyn Mary Hutter, acting division director for the Division of Genome Sciences at the National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health.

“She’s going to talk about the scientific progress that’s been made. She’s one of the leaders of the Precision Medicine Initiative,” Mehlman said.

According the Mehlman, legal challenges for precision medicine include:

  • Will a doctor be liable for malpractice if he or she doesn’t tailor a treatment specifically to the patient?
  • Precision medicine requires access to medical records, which raises serious privacy issues.
  • If research finds that people, based on where they or their ancestors came from, respond differently to various drugs, will that lead to discrimination and stigmatization?
  • How will private health insurers price their policies and decide whether and how much to pay doctors and other health care providers if patients are different in terms of their illnesses and treatments but insurers can’t find that out?
  • Will federal budget cuts of funding for medical research delay production of new evidence needed in order for precision medicine to work effectively?