Portland Traumatic Brain Injury Study Raises Questions

If you arrive in a hospital emergency room unconscious and suffering from an Oregon traumatic brain injury can the doctors use you for a medical experiment without your consent? You might have thought the answer to that question was pretty obvious: absolutely not. According to a recent article in the Portland Tribune, however, you would be wrong.

The Tribune reports that researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, beginning this week, are using a loophole in federal regulations governing medical studies on humans to move ahead with an Oregon brain injury study. Under the so-called “community-wide study exception” the hospital has staged about 20 community meetings to explain its proposed brain injury study and may now presume that any unconscious person brought into the emergency room with an Oregon traumatic brain injury has consented to involvement in the study unless they are wearing a bracelet that declares otherwise, or family members arrive at the ER within one hour of the patient’s admission and refuse to consent to the injured person’s enrollment in the program.

The study in question involves use of progesterone, a hormone that may help severely injured patients recover from brain injuries. It raises, however, a broader question of what ‘informed consent’ ought to mean in the real world. Can an entire community legitimately be said to have agreed to be involved in a study on the basis of a series of public meetings, some of which, according to the paper, were attended by only a handful of people? What about people from elsewhere in Oregon or from out of state who are unlucky enough to be involved in a Portland auto accident and just happen to be taken to OHSU?

This development is particularly troubling for the precedent it sets. Indeed, the Tribune article notes that other studies have been conducted here in Oregon under the “community-wide” exception.

Situations like these are a reminder of the important role a Portland traumatic brain injury attorney can play in protecting your rights when you are unable to speak for yourself. Medical studies are important, but that does not mean a severely injured person’s consent to participate in a serious medical experiment ought to be presumed on the basis of where they live or what hospital first-responders happened to transport them to. An Oregon brain injury lawyer can work with your loved ones to ensure that your wishes are honored – not merely inferred.

Portland Tribune: Brain injury study hopes to overcome ‘consent’ concerns