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The Risks of Performing Biomedical Research in Skilled Nursing Facilities

vials in lab for testing

As COVID-19 continues to infect people on a daily basis, scientists, doctors, and researchers are working tirelessly to find ways to treat the virus and develop a vaccine. Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable population to COVID-19. Across Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of nursing home residents have been infected, which has led some doctors to take drastic and questionable measures when it comes to attempting treatments through biomedical research. Let’s take a look at the risks of performing biomedical research in skilled nursing facilities and what the potential ramifications could be.

What Is Biomedical Research?

Biomedical research is a broad area of science. Essentially, it looks for ways to prevent and treat diseases that cause illnesses and death in people and animals. Scientists in the field are on the frontlines when it comes to attempting to find a way to treat or inoculate COVID-19.

Biomedical research is an evolving process. It requires careful experimentation by many scientists, including chemists and biologists. Through careful scientific experimentation, development, and evaluation, it’s possible for new medicines and therapies to be discovered.

When medicine or therapy reaches a point where scientists think it could benefit humans, animals are often used to determine how effective the discovery is. Medical researchers need to understand health problems before they can treat them, and animals generally make good research subjects. This is because they are biologically similar to humans and are susceptible to many of the same health problems.

In most circles, it is deemed unethical and illegal to conduct biomedical research on human beings. Unfortunately, it seems that some medical professionals have taken it upon themselves to test drugs on nursing home patients in an effort to learn more about COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine Trials in Nursing Homes With COVID-19

News has been circulating around the country regarding doctors testing hydroxychloroquine on nursing home patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Aside from the fact that the FDA has not greenlit the drug for COVID-19 treatment, there’s also the matter of consent.

Many residents, due to a number of factors including age and disease, do not have the ability to consent to a clinical trial. Family members aren’t being made aware of the testing, and some residents have suffered adverse side effects. In addition to potential heart problems, hydroxychloroquine also has the potential to cause vision changes and muscle weakness—especially in those with preexisting conditions.

Specifically in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center was administering the drug without completely explaining what it was or what it could do. According to an 85-year-old resident’s family, they were unaware the facility had started their loved one on the medication.

State law requires long-term care facilities obtain permission from a patient or family member with medical power of attorney before starting experimental treatments. In addition to that, such decisions must be approved by an independent review board set up by the Department of Health.

It is unclear how many PA nursing home residents have received hydroxychloroquine. In the event, the medication was administered without permission, the patients have the right to take legal action per the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki—the former of which focuses on human rights and the latter on the obligations of physicians to research subjects.

The Dangers of Hydroxychloroquine

In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of hospital settings due to the risk of heart rhythm problems. The drug, however, is approved for uses for malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

According to their statement, some COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin, experienced serious heart rhythm problems and a dangerously rapid heart rate. Patients who have other health issues, like heart or kidney disease, are more at risk of developing heart problems when taking the medication.

The FDA is recommending that doctors only prescribe hydroxychloroquine in hospital or valid clinical trial settings. Patients should be initially evaluated and monitored closely to ensure their health and safety, while investigating the medicine for treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

For those who take hydroxychloroquine for FDA-approved indications, they should continue taking their medication as prescribed. It remains that the benefits outweigh the risks at the recommended doses for conditions like malaria or autoimmune conditions.

Protect Your Loved One With Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, LLC

Unfortunately, it currently remains true that there are no proven treatments for COVID-19 and no vaccine. As scientists, doctors, and researches continue to work to find treatments for this illness, it’s important we do what we can to protect our loved ones.

If you believe your loved was administered hydroxychloroquine in violation of their rights in their nursing home, it’s important to take action fast. Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco, LLC in conjunction with other law firms in the state, has filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and we may be able to help your loved one recover compensation for any suffering they wrongfully endured. To learn more, contact us today.

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