Every newborn baby born in the U.S. gets a heel prick so that doctors can obtain a sample of blood and test it for devastating diseases. This procedure is so common, in fact, that parents are seldom asked to consent to the research on their babies’ blood—most parents probably don’t even know that the heel prick occurs. However, one state is prepared to throw away blood samples from 5 million babies to settle a lawsuit from angry parents who say that their family’s privacy is at stake.
The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of five parents in Texas, marks the first time the infant blood-testing program has ever been confronted on ethical grounds. The lawsuit originally sought to stop the Texas Department of State Health Services from collecting blood from newborns and indefinitely storing it without parental notification or consent. The lawsuit has already resulted in a new law, which requires the health department to present a detailed, written disclosure at the time of birth so that a parent can opt out of the program at that time or within 60 days afterwards. Additionally, the law also permits adults to withdraw consent and have their blood sample destroyed, even if their parent(s) gave consent at the time of birth.
Nevertheless, the last caveat of the lawsuit has yet to be resolved: what to do with the millions of blood samples already collected and stored without consent. The plaintiffs argue that keeping the blood violates their constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure and fundamental privacy rights. Other states have already made moves to protect themselves from lawsuits similar to that brought against the Texas state health department. For example, Michigan just moved 4 million leftover blood spots into a new “BioTrust for Health” and is also planning an educational campaign to educated parents on the research potential of collecting infant blood samples and how families can opt out.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.