November 02, 2010

Law schools hosts moot court competition Nov. 5-6

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Questions surrounding organ transplant donation and constitutional rights are the focus of Southern Illinois University School of Law’s annual National Health Law Moot Court Competition.

The annual two-day event is Friday, Nov. 5, and Saturday, Nov. 6, in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. Students representing 24 law schools will participate. More information is available at

For the 19th year, 33 teams representing 24 schools will meet in the nation’s only health law moot court competition. Preliminary rounds begin at 11 a.m. Friday, with 16 teams advancing to compete Saturday.

The top two teams meet in the finals at 4 p.m. Saturday in the law school courtroom.

Teams in the final will present oral arguments five times in the space of two days. Each team argues each side of the issue in the two preliminary rounds on Friday. In Saturday’s rounds, teams choose the side they represent by coin flip.

The 16 teams begin competition at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m., semifinals at 2 p.m. and finals at 4 p.m.

Participating second- and third-year law students receive expert feedback from judges, attorneys, and law professors on areas that include presentation, skill, and logic of their arguments, said Professor W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law.

The event is a lot of work for SIUC law students, professors, and judges, but there is a great deal of satisfaction, Basanta said.

“I find it exciting because we have cutting-edge problems,” he said. This is a great problem. It’s invigorating and always new.”

SIU law students score technical components of the competitors’ legal briefs, including proper style, citations, and typographical errors. An expert panel from the American College of Legal Medicine judges the substantive portion of the brief.

The law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy, the School of Medicine’s Department of Medical Humanities, the American College of Legal Medicine, and the American College of Legal Medicine Foundation co-sponsor the event.

“This is a fantastic event for the law school,” Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine said. “Students and faculty travel to SIUC from all across the country for this competition, so it's a great opportunity for us to show off both our appellate advocacy and health law programs. Professors Gene Basanta and Cheryl Anderson, as well as many of our students, work very hard on this every year, and I appreciate those efforts.”

This year’s fictitious case centers on the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy who runs out into the street to retrieve a softball and is struck by a vehicle in a hit-and-run. The boy dies following a six-hour operation. Minutes after the child’s death, a local eye and tissue bank employee approaches the child’s mother about agreeing to organ and tissue donation. The mother faints, is taken home by another family member and the family doesn’t respond to the donation inquiry.

Subsequently, a funeral home representative contacts the family two days later and tells them the boy’s corneas are missing. That news is “especially significant” because the family adheres to a Hmong belief system, immigrating to the United States from Laos 15 years earlier. Many in the Hmong community, including this family, believe the body must remain whole for burial in order to protect the soul.

An investigation shows the state’s Anatomical Gift Act allows medical examiners to extract corneas from deceased bodies under their charge as long as there was no prior refusal by family members. In this case, because the child’s death was accidental, the medical examiner had custody of the body, and the family did not sign anything to refuse the organ donation.

The case raises questions about whether there is a constitutional violation of the mother’s due process rights concerning her property interest in her son’s body, as well as whether there is an infringement of the family’s constitutional rights of free religious exercise.

Basanta said that in the last 30 to 40 years, medical science has developed remarkable capabilities for successful transplants, but the biggest impediment to organ transplants is supply of organs. The nation has historically relied upon a voluntary donation process, he said.

One legislative approach to increase organ donations is “presumed consent,” and many states, including Illinois, have statutes allowing coroners and medical examiners with jurisdiction over deceased individuals to authorize cornea removal unless there is a known objection, Basanta said.

Basanta, Anderson, and Michele Mekel, an assistant professor at the law school, came up with the idea. Michele B. Goodwin, the Everett Fraser Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, a national expert in the area of organ transplants, drafted the problem.

The American College of Legal Medicine and the SIUC law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy are providing scholarship money for the top teams and individuals. The ACLM provides $1,000 for the winning team, $750 for second place and $500 for third place. The best legal brief receives $500. The student making the best oral arguments in the competition receives a $500 scholarship.

The law school's Center for Health Law and Policy is providing $250 each to the best orator in the preliminary rounds, and $250 to the runner-up best legal brief. The ACLM also will publish the best legal brief in its “Journal of Legal Medicine.”

Panelists for Saturday’s final round include U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas B. Russell of Paducah, who presides over the U.S. District for Western Kentucky; Judge John Marshall Rogers of the Sixth District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Dr. Dale H. Cowan, president of the American College of Legal Medicine.

Participating law schools are: Boston University School of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, Philadelphia; Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala.; Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta; Gonzaga University School of Law, Spokane, Wash.; Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minn.; Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis; Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Marquette University Law School; Mississippi College School of Law, Jackson, Miss.; New York Law School, New York, N.Y.; North Carolina Central University School of Law, Durham, N.C.; Northeastern University School of Law, Boston; St. Louis University School of Law; Seton Hall School of Law, Newark N.J.; South Texas College of Law, Houston; Suffolk University Law School, Boston; University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law; University of Maryland School of Law; University of New Mexico School of Law; University of Pittsburg School of Law; University of Tulsa College of Law; Western New England College School of Law, Springfield, Mass.