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Regulation, Social Justice, and Medicine

April 06, 2022

Sharswood Fellow Allison M. Whelan’s research focuses on the roles of agencies, legislatures, the courts, and the executive in regulating the distribution of and access to medicines and medical services.

Allison M. Whelan is a Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and an Associate Fellow at Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. She is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research and teaching encompass a broad set of medical, science, and social policy issues at the intersection of administrative law, health and FDA law, constitutional law, bioethics, public health, and social justice.

Whelan’s work interrogates the connected and often conflicting roles of agencies, legislatures, the courts, and the executive in regulating the distribution of and access to medicines and medical services. Her scholarship aims to provide realistic solutions to pressing societal problems by unpacking what is, what ought to be, and what is possible.

Agency Scientific Decision-Making

In a current project, Whelan explores these themes by examining the executive’s authority to influence or control agency scientific decision-making. It raises important questions magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as who should control agency scientific decisions and how to mitigate improper executive interference in agency science. This work emerges at a time when executive interference has caused significant and potentially long-lasting damage to the scientific integrity of agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The project illustrates, however, that this problem is not new and occurs under both Democrat and Republican administrations. Whelan’s work offers a new approach for overseeing and mitigating improper executive interference, with the goal of promoting the important values of agency accountability, credibility, and public trust. This article will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Vanderbilt Law Review.

Health Misinformation

In another work-in-progress, Allison explores the timely and important issue of health misinformation, which spread at unprecedented speed and scale during the COVID-19 pandemic and caused significant harm to individual and public health.

Specifically, this work analyzes the legal, professional, and ethical obligations of medical professionals to combat health misinformation spread by “government clinicians,” which include medical professionals vested with government authority, such as presidential advisers and United States senators. This work grapples with the strengths and limitations of different methods to regulate health misinformation, including government regulation, regulation by medical boards, and professional self-regulation.

Additional Interdisciplinary Projects

Whelan is also working on several other projects, exploring issues such as the tensions between federal and state authority over pharmaceutical regulation and access, agency regulation of reproductive rights, and the growing state attacks on transgender rights.

She is collaborating on a project assessing state progress toward eliminating period poverty and achieving menstrual equity, and is a member of a cross-institutional working group led by Penn’s Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy, which is exploring the responsibilities of academic institutions to ensure access to novel technologies and treatments.

Additionally, Whelan has several forthcoming law review articles and book chapters, and she is co-editing the second edition of Baby Markets with Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. She is currently teaching the seminar, “FDA Law and Policy During Public Health Emergencies.”

This summer, Whelan will present current projects at the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics’ 45th Annual Health Law Professor’s Conference and the 2022 Global Meeting on Law and Society.

This fall, she will join Georgia State University College of Law as an Assistant Professor.  

Learn more about academic fellowships at the Law School.