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Judge denies NHL’s request for medical data from BU’s CTE Center

A U.S. federal court judge in Minneapolis denies NHL’s attempt to force Boston University to hand over reams of medical data related to its research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy. PHOTO BY JINGYI LIN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

A U.S. District Court judge denied a request by the National Hockey League Wednesday for all medical data from Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.

The NHL is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit by former NHL players who claim the league knew about the health risks the sport posed, and continued to promote a dangerous style of play, according to BU Associate General Counsel Lawrence Elswit.

Elswit provided legal defense for BU in the case, wherein the judge ultimately decided asking BU to produce these results would be too arduous a task.

“It’s incredibly burdensome on the CTE Center to produce all this information,” Elswit said. “It takes a lot of time. It would disrupt research. It risks violating the privacy of research subjects.”

Elswit said although BU is not involved in the lawsuit against the NHL, the research done by BU’s CTE Center would be useful in the case.

“The league wanted all of what we call the primary data: all of the research data that had been generated by the CTE Center’s study,” Elswit said.

To provide this information while maintaining patient privacy would have limited research time and put a significant burden on the CTE Center, Elswit said.

“BU’s CTE Center has analyzed more than 400 brains and spinal cords of former athletes, military personnel and other people,” Elswit said. “Six of them were NHL players. The league wanted all of the information from those other 394 people and it wanted all of the information, all of the rough drafts of published papers [and] emails.”

BU did release information about the six former hockey players the Center has studied.

“This is really a very significant victory for scientific research because it means that research can be conducted, and it’s going to go on without worrying that it’s going to become part of a lawsuit,” Elswit said.

BU School of Medicine spokesperson Maria Ober wrote in an email to The Daily Free Press that she commends the judge’s fairness in handling both the NHL and BU’s needs.

“The court concluded that the NHL’s subpoena was overbroad and excessive, and that compliance would impose an unreasonable burden on the CTE Center,” Ober wrote. “Implicit in the decision is the court’s recognition that invasive subpoenas like the one issued by the NHL can disrupt scientific research.”

The CTE Center did not release any other research or publications still in progress, Ober said.

“The court’s decision adopted the university’s position and does not require the production of additional information that is entirely irrelevant to the issues in the lawsuit,” Ober wrote.

NHL didn’t comment by press time.

Several students said they mostly support the judge’s decision.

Elisabeth Palczynski, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the CTE Center had every right to keep this information private.

“What’s the NHL going to do with [the research] that BU’s not?” Palczynski said.

Palczynski said asking for these results is a waste of time and much less important than the actual research being done.

“Because the research isn’t over, then having [the information] released would impede the research,” Palczynski said. “You want the research to be over as quickly as possible, but you also want it to be thorough and having to go through and release that would mess it all up.”

Dong Hoon Kim, a sophomore in the Questrom School of Business, said he thinks confidentiality is key with this information.

“I think it’s fine if it’s confidential,” Kim said. “Medical information is private information, and as long as it’s anonymous … it’s OK to release it.”

Nicole Ricker, a sophomore in CAS, said the NHL had no case in requiring the CTE Center’s records.

“Medical records are sealed, so you shouldn’t have to release anything that would compromise the confidentiality of those records,” Ricker said. “If you just want it for legal reasons, that kind of negates the medical reasons for getting all that data.”

Ricker said the NHL was asking for too much of the CTE Center in their request.

“[Asking for] all of them was kind of excessive,” Ricker said. “If they had specific ones that they wanted, but just getting all of the records seems like kind of a long shot … that’s kind of a bold thing to ask, just give us all your records.”

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