Bioethics Blogs

The SUPPORT Study Case: Not Vindication

Last week’s New England Journal of Medicine featured, and had an editorial about, a short opinion piece by John Lantos about the recent decision in Looney v. Moore. In that case, a Federal District judge dismissed the claims for damages brought by families of babies who had suffered injuries while enrolled in the controversial SUPPORT study. The SUPPORT study was designed to help determine optimal blood-oxygen levels for infants in the NICU. Lantos’ piece characterized the judge’s opinion as a “vindication” of the study.

In the New York Times, NEJM editor-in-chief Jeffrey Drazen was quoted as saying that the judge in Looney “was saying . . .  that being in the trial didn’t cause the bad outcomes for these kids.” But the opinion was no vindication, and that isn’t what the judge was saying.

To be clear: in this post, I will express no opinion about whether the researchers in the SUPPORT study exposed patients to risks beyond those they’d have faced outside the study; and if they did, whether they knew or should have known about any such additional risks when they framed their study. Furthermore, I express no opinion about whether the researchers adequately disclosed risks to patients’ families in the informed consent process. In these particulars, I exactly resemble Judge Bowdre, who, not having conducted a trial on any of these issues, naturally made no findings with regard to any of them.

When a plaintiff sues a defendant in a civil tort case for damages (as in a medical or legal malpractice case or a car-crash case or a toxic-exposure case), the plaintiff must prove four things: First, that the defendant had some duty to the plaintiff.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.