U-M Law professor serves as advocate for female rights

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The first lawyer in his family, Ed Goldman was drawn to a legal career by an interest in arguing. But his primary passion over several decades has been women’s legal rights and reproductive justice.

In a career that has blended law, ethics, public policy, medical issues, teaching, writing, and community service, Goldman is currently an attorney and a professor in the University of Michigan Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where he manages its Program on Sexual Rights and Reproductive Justice. This program helps educate medical students, lawmakers, and the public about women’s rights issues.

He teaches a seminar on Reproductive Justice at the U-M Law School, and also teaches courses in health law and the legal and ethical aspects of research at the U-M School of Public Health, legal issues in women’s rights in the Women’s Studies Department; as well as teaching research law and ethics as a visiting professor at Indiana University.

It’s a far cry from his early days as a labor lawyer, followed by a stint in municipal corporation law, before returning to his alma mater and joining the Michigan Law faculty, where he started the Clinical Law program and ran it for four years.

His work with civil commitment cases in this program sparked his interest in the intersection of law and medicine – leading him to create the current U-M Health System Legal Office in 1978, where he was appointed Associate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in 2004. The one person office grew to a boutique law firm by his departure in 2009, and dealt with malpractice defense, contracts, ethical issues, reimbursement, and research with human subjects and all the health care work except for labor law issues that were managed by the General Counsel’s Office.

“Following that, I decided to focus my work on issues of women’s rights because of the outpouring of legislation against women’s autonomy and the continued unequal treatment of women in our society,” Goldman says.

As head of the U-M Sexual Rights and Reproductive Justice (SRRJ) program, his work includes research projects, partnership with established advocacy groups, conferences and meetings, dissemination of findings and analyses related to sexual rights and reproductive justice, and building relationships with colleagues in and beyond academia in the United States and around the globe.

The work also reaches overseas to the law faculty at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, where in 2011 Goldman helped to create a Law Students for Reproductive Justice (RJ) student group and helped design a class in RJ. He is currently helping to create a master’s degree program in women’s rights for the law faculty.

His work in the U-M ObGyn Department focuses on both national and international reproductive justice issues.

“For example, I’ve written about sterilization of developmentally disabled minors and I’m working on making it easier for pregnant women to participate in research about pregnancy,” he explains. “It is, to my mind, wrong that in an attempt to protect women, many drugs used during pregnancy have never been tested in pregnant women.”

Goldman – president of the Michigan BioTrust for Health, former chair and vice-chair of the Michigan Certificate of Need Commission, and former member of the Clinton health care reform task force  – has written on a number of topics in the health care field covering such areas as refusing treatment, informed consent for breast cancer therapy, consenting to blood transfusion, medico-legal issues in pulmonary medicine, the law of emergency care in neonatal emergencies, embryonic stem cells, and privacy issues, genetics, wrongful birth, fetal versus maternal rights, medical education, non-custodial parents’ rights in their children’s health care, and newborn screening, an area he has worked in for many years.

A Fellow of the American Health Lawyers Association (ALHA), Goldman – who served on a national cancer panel working to create more readable research consent forms and was a member of the Michigan Hepatitis B task force – serves on an NIH-funded committee to study use of dried blood spots from newborn screening in research.

“I first was on a federal panel that created a uniform set of tests and now I’m looking at using dried blood spots left over from testing for research,” he explains. “For example, Michigan has more than 4 million spots that are anonymized and can be used for research. As president of the Michigan BioTrust, I am working to preserve the dried blood spits so they can be used for important public health research.”

He also worked on the successful Michigan 2008 effort to allow use of embryos to create embryonic stem cell lines for research purposes. Embryonic stem cells are created by removing and growing the inner cell mass from an about to be destroyed embryo – either because it is no longer required for reproduction or because it is not suitable for reproduction due to lethal fetal issues, he explains.

“Once created, the cell line can be used to study diseases and possible treatments. This research is opposed by groups who believe that destruction of the embryos is murder, but really these are embryos that would never be used for reproduction and therefore would never have the potential to become a fetus. It is, in my view, better to use them to cure diseases then to simply throw them out.”

The Michigan public agreed and in 2008 voted to allow this research, he notes.

Goldman feels medical education needs to include teaching about legal issues to have a complete education.

“In ObGyn I teach sessions on medical-legal issues so students can understand the politics of women’s rights.”

Goldman rejoined the Michigan Law faculty two years ago to teach a seminar in Reproductive Justice.

“It’s much broader than a simple focus on abortion and, it really focuses on the rights of women to decide to have a child, not have a child and raise any children in a supportive society,” he explains. “My students see how much work still needs to be done for women to have equal rights.”

According to Goldman, law students who go on to specialize in this field will probably work for organizations devoted to advancing the cause of women's rights, like the ACLU reproductive justice project started by now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Goldman – who in his leisure time volunteers for not-for-profit agencies, cooks, does yoga, spoils his grandchildren, and plays classical guitar – received a Rackham Michigan Meetings Grant in 2012 to put on an interdisciplinary conference on international reproductive rights – “RJ/A3 in A2/2013: Reproductive Justice: Activists, Advocates, Academics”  – set for May 29-31 at the U-M Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in Ann Arbor.

“The idea is to have advocates and academics talk to each other about an RJ research agenda and to find ways for both groups to educate each other,” says Goldman, who will run the conference.

For more information on the conference, visit https://sites.google.com/site/a3ina2/.