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Student Health Law Association
Background Reading
Note: Most of these books are not scholarly, technical, or textbooks. Instead they illuminate generate aspects of the health system in this country. A few, however, are textbooks or hornbooks. Also note that many of these books are available either in the Law Library or the Kelvin Smith Library. Some of the journals are available via Lexis / Westlaw or other resources free to law students.
• SHLA does not endorse the views or opinions expressed in any of these materials.


Thomas S. Bodenheimer and Kevin Grumbach, Understanding Health Policy: A Clinical Approach.
•An excellent and very concise introductory textbook to the health system as it exists in American today, covering financing and reimbursement models, the structure of medical practices, the rise in health costs and methods for controlling costs, health disparities among different populations, the nature of medical education, and an overview of health delivery systems in four other industrialized nations.
•This book would make an excellent supplement to Prof. Mehlman’s Health Law class, as it covers most of (if not more than) the background and historical and background material that Prof. Mehlman covers in his “data dump” lectures during the first few class sessions.

Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry.

• A classic history of how medical care delivery was and is delivered in the US, focusing on the role of organized medicine in shaping the current system and opposing the kind of nationalized health systems seen in other industrialized countries. This book does not paint a flattering picture of the AMA, which often seems to be looking out more for doctors’ incomes and professional autonomy than for the benefit of patients.
• Again, this would be a good supplement to Prof. Mehlman’s class, and it would also help a great deal in understanding the predicament of the US health system. This is a weighty tome, so you might want to read it during break.

American Health Lawyers Association, Fundamentals of Health Law.

• Health law hornbook.
• Comes recommended by several professors.
• Discounts for those who are AHLA members.
• Available in the Law Library: KF3821 .F86 2000. May be on course reserve.

Furrow and Greaney, Hornbook on Health Law
• Can be purchased with around 5,000 LexisNexis rewards points.

Of Interest

Julie Salamon, Hospital.
• This is a year in the life portrait of a large hospital in Brooklyn, NY serving a very diverse population. Office politics, competition with other hospitals, financial problems, interesting personalities, and difficult medical decisions abound.

Philip J. Hilts, Protecting America's Health: The FDA, Business and One Hundred Years of Regulation.
• This is a history of the FDA, its regulatory mission and the opposition to regulation by various industries and political actors. Covers mainly the food and drug aspect of FDA history, with less focus on medical devices, biologics, and cosmetics.
• This would make a good supplement to Prof. Berg’s Food and Drug Law class.

Merrill Goozner, The $800 Million Dollar Pill.
• Why are prescription drugs so expensive? This book debunks the notion that the research for finding new drugs can only be funded by charging high prices for existing drugs. In fact, scientists doing basic research are often funded through NIH grants and the like (i.e. the American taxpayer) and move to pharmaceutical firms only once they are ready to begin patenting, testing and marketing their discoveries for human use. The result is that pharma’s huge profit margins are government subsidized.

Marion Nestle, Food Politics.
• Discusses the political influence of the food industry in shaping government policies toward food, nutrition, and agriculture, with interesting bits about the psychology of food advertising, the history of nutrition in the US, and the obesity epidemic. We were once underfed, hence the policy was to “Eat more!” Now, we’re way overfed, but thanks to food industry lobbying, government policy is still, effectively, to “Eat more.”

Devra Davis, The Secret History of the War on Cancer.
• This book is a little scattershot, mixing a bit of the history of the “war” on cancer with accounts of how industry, the government, and even the American Cancer Society attempted to suppress data showing that various environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, food additives, hormones present in food, cosmetics and elsewhere, and other pollutants and poisons are the main cause of cancer. Also discusses how industry goes to great length to fund favorable studies, discredit reputable scientists, and create doubt about the causes of cancer when none should reasonably exist.
• The downside of this book is you may become afraid that you are causing yourself cancer every time you detect a chemical smell, eat various food additives, are exposed to fumes, or place a cell phone next to your ear.

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma.
• Pollan’s quest to learn more about the origins of the food he eats takes the reader to Midwestern corn field and “industrial organic” farms, on a field trip to find wild mushrooms, and on a hunting trip to find a wild boar. Unlike Koala bears, humans are able to eat pretty much anything, leading us to a difficult question: “What should I eat?” Pollan discusses the variety of ways in which humans have chosen to answer that question.

Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
• This book manages to be both respectful and often quite humorous while discussing many of the strange uses to which human cadavers are put.
• Includes instructions on how you too can donate your body to science!

SHLA provides a forum for students to further their interest in health law and policy.