UHLC Prof Roberts proposes better protections of human research subjects

Professor Jessica L. Roberts

Jan. 8, 2016 – University of Houston Law Center Professor Jessica L. Roberts called for autonomy and privacy for human research subjects in a blog entry and commentary addressed to a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Roberts suggested congressional intervention and more consistency in reference to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, also known as Common Rule – a rule of bioethics intended to protect people who participate in scientific experiments.

In a blog posted in the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Roberts and Valerie Gutmann Koch, a visiting associate professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, called for better protection and more clarity in human subject research.

"Given the progress of science over the past 25 years, changes to the Common Rule are long overdue,” said Roberts, director of the Health Law & Policy Institute at the Law Center. “I was delighted to have the opportunity to comment on these important issues.”

Roberts and Koch also issued three recommendations in a letter addressed to Jerry Menikoff, the director of the Office for Human Research Protections for the Department of Health and Human Services: To encourage Congress to provide a statutory private right of action for the Common Rule; to clarify whether research subjects have a potential commercial interest in research done on their biospecimens; and to eliminate the distinction between biospecimens and personal information and data.

Roberts is also co-authoring a book, “Healthism: Health-Status Discrimination & the Law,” with Elizabeth Weeks Leonard, a professor at the University of Georgia Law School. The book will highlight the preferential treatment of healthy people versus unhealthy people by the government and private entities and will be published by the Cambridge University Press.

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