The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled against the state in a lawsuit contesting the state health department practice of allowing infant blood samples to be used for research purposes (PDF) without getting permission to do so.
Minn. Supreme Court rules against state on use of infant blood samples for research
The majority opinion reverses a 2009 summary judgment that had been in favor of the state, which allows Mayo Medical Laboratories to use for research excess blood samples taken as part of a state contract to perform screening tests for inherited and congenital diseases, according to the ruling. (The lab is part of Mayo Clinic's department of laboratory medicine and pathology, according to its website.) An appeal of the summary judgment was denied in 2010.
As a result of the ruling, the state will now have to get written, informed consent before the samples can be used for research, said Scott Kelly, an attorney for the plaintiffs who works for Farrish Johnson Law Office, Mankato, Minn. In addition, the ruling could have implications for 18 other states that have programs similar to Minnesota's, Kelly said.
The state is considering its options. “We are reviewing the court's decision to determine the potential implications of the ruling on the ongoing operations of the state's newborn screening program,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, in a statement. “This important public health program protects Minnesota babies from serious congenital and heritable disorders,” Ehlinger said.
Kelly said it's unclear whether Minnesota is in a position to profit from the research, but since it is in the screening contract, it may affect the pricing for the program.
The Supreme Court majority opinion ruled that the screening program's blood samples are considered to be genetic information and therefore subject to a state law restricting use of genetic data, one of issues that were the basis of the lower courts' decisions to grant summary judgment in favor of the state. A minority opinion disagreed with the ruling that the blood samples were genetic information.
The majority opinion also found that the state is not expressly provided with the authority to collect the data, but did not rule on an issue regarding the remedies that would be provided to the plaintiffs—nine families with 25 children born between 1998 and 2008—and sent that portion of the suit back to state district court.
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