State sued over trading and selling of infant blood spots

by jeeg 9. December 2010 19:31

A federal class action lawsuit filed today in San Antonio claims the state “deceptively and unlawfully sold, traded, bartered, and distributed blood samples” from newborns in exchange for fees, lab equipment and other purposes.

The suit was filed against the Texas Department of State Health Services and its commissioner, David Lakey, by the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of two parents, Jeffrey Higgins of San Antonio and Andromida McCall of New Orleans. It alleges that the use of the samples was an unlawful “search and seizure” that violated “fundamental privacy rights.”

The plaintiffs claim the state has “no legal authority to ‘seize’ the blood for commercial and police purposes and keep it indefinitely, without consent.”

The blood was collected from the babies as part of the state’s mandated Newborn Screening Program, which tests blood spots on virtually every child born in Texas for 28 genetic disorders, some of them deadly. The Statesman published an article in May describing how the state swapped and sold blood spots to private companies that make testing kits and supply products to the state lab.

State officials said at the time that what they were doing benefited taxpayers and the public without compromising the privacy of samples, which are marked with code numbers, not names. They did not believe they had done anything wrong but said they were putting a hold on the practice to come up with guidelines for distributing blood spots left over after the genetic testing was done.

About 400,000 babies are born each year in Texas, and most of them are tested twice — once in the first 48 hours and again one or two weeks after birth, unless parents have religious objections. Blood from the baby’s heel is blotted onto filter paper, five spots on each of two cards. The screening tests generally use one or two spots per card.

Since 2002, that blood was stored indefinitely, without parents’ consent, for possible research and for calibrating lab equipment. A Statesman article in 2009 exposed the practice, resulting in legislative changes, requiring parents to be informed and allowing them to opt out of the storage of their child’s blood spots.

This is the second suit the Texas Civil Rights Project has filed against the state health department in connection with the blood spots. The two parties settled a suit last year over the storage of the blood spots.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said today that during the settlement negotiations parents and lawyers were not told about the blood spot exchanges despite asking numerous times.

 

Mary Ann Roser, Austin American Statesman

 

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