Cordell Institute to take on issues of ethics, policy in data-driven health care and beyond

Institute will work at intersection of science, medicine, ethics and law

Precision medicine is an approach that allows doctors to more accurately treat and prevent disease by taking into consideration a patient’s data, such as his or her genetics, diet, environment and lifestyle.

This approach provides a more individualized path of care, but it also raises a host of important questions related to the use of personal data and informed consent, privacy, data security, discrimination, insurance and so forth.

Precision medicine is but one of a number of technologies that are powered by personal information, promising to revolutionize human lives, but raising serious policy, legal and ethical questions about power, consent and privacy in the information age.

To tackle these questions in the field of human health and beyond, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law alumni Joseph Cordell (LLM ’08) and Yvonne Cordell (JD ’88), have made a $5 million commitment to establish and endow the Joseph and Yvonne Cordell Institute for Policy in Medicine & Law. The couple also is providing significant annual support to enable the immediate work of the Cordell Institute.

Yvonne and Joseph Cordell

“I am grateful to Joseph and Yvonne not only for their financial generosity but also for their farsightedness and wisdom in knowing the importance of these issues in the world today and well into the future,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “Their gift will help many navigate the often-difficult waters of precision medicine, ethics and law. This is a gift with far-reaching and long-lasting impact.”

The Cordell Institute, which will be officially dedicated Wednesday, Sept. 12, will sponsor two academic symposia — “Issues and Advocacy in Precision Medicine,” on Thursday, Sept. 13, at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on the Medical Campus, and “Trust and Privacy in the Digital Age” on Friday, Sept. 14, at the School of Law in Anheuser-Busch Hall on the Danforth Campus — highlighting issues and expertise in genomic medicine, privacy law and the ethical management of human information in the age of data-driven health care.

“Our institute is a unique collaboration between Washington University’s world-class schools of medicine and law,” said Neil Richards, co-director of the Cordell Institute and noted privacy and information law expert.

“Our goal is to ensure that precision medicine and other technologies fueled by human data can be developed in ways that live up to their great promise, while making sure that we protect the people whose data is being used, in their roles as patients, consumers, citizens and humans,” Richards said.

The institute is the vision of Nancy Staudt, dean of the School of Law and the Howard and Caroline Cayne Distinguished Professor of Law; and Timothy Eberlein, MD, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center. Eberlein is also the William K. Bixby Professor and head of the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine.

The institute is a first-of-its-kind collaboration combining world-class expertise in human genomic science and the law and ethics of human information management to guide the ethically responsible emergence of data-driven health care.

The Cordell Institute’s stated mission is “pioneering an ethical data-driven future, promoting health and protecting people.” It was founded on the following principles:

  • Ethics of human information. Solving emerging legal and policy issues around the challenges of complex human information, particularly with respect to genomic medicine and other human data-driven health technologies.
  • Focus on individuals. Maintaining a focus on the individuals of our society, empowering patients, families and communities to understand and utilize their information for their benefit.
  • Trusted resource. Serving as a trusted and accessible resource for the medical and legal professions, legislators, the judiciary and the public in the areas of human information and healthcare policy.
  • Training tomorrow’s experts. Training and inspiring the next generation of medical-legal scholars to build upon a tradition of excellence at Washington University, and to provide continuing leadership at the nexus of medicine and law.

“This institute was conceived to help facilitate the emergence of precision medicine,” said co-director Jonathan Heusel, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and of genetics at the School of Medicine, and an expert in molecular medicine and the development of clinical diagnostics. Heusel also directs clinical and translational genomics for the Department of Pathology & Immunology.

“In its earliest incarnation, precision medicine is the application of human genetic and genomic information to improve health care, but the underlying legal and regulatory framework that we help to build will enable subsequent applications of ‘big data’ as technology continues to evolve and discoveries emerge,” Heusel said.

The Cordell Institute is forging partnerships that will allow research and policy solutions to be tested across the world.

The institute has partnered with several entities within the greater Washington University institutional community, including Siteman Cancer Center; the Institute for Informatics; the McDonnell Genome Institute; the Institute for Clinical and Translational Sciences; the Institute for Public Health; and the Center for Clinical and Research Ethics, whose faculty participate as Cordell Institute fellows.

In addition to these university partners, the Cordell Institute also has developed relationships with external partners, including the Geisinger Health System’s Genomic Medicine Institute; the Regenstrief Institute; the Data & Society Research Institute; renowned legal firms with leading expertise in privacy law, HIPAA and GDPR regulations, and general health care law; and large corporations committed to efficient, robust and transparent global information management solutions.

In addition to active participation in original scholarship in both medicine and law, the Cordell Institute provides a reliable pathway for new human research and health care policy development, an educational role for legislatures, courts and the general public on issues of precision medicine and other data-driven human endeavors, and advocacy for technical, ethical and legal applications of its policies and ideas.

About Joseph and Yvonne Cordell

Joseph Cordell earned a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from Oklahoma State University and a JD from the University of Texas at Austin, before earning an LLM in taxation at Washington University. He is a graduate of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, holds a Missouri CPA license and is the past president of the American Academy of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants.

Yvonne Cordell earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Illinois State University, followed by her Washington University law degree. She then worked in the legal department of American General Finance.

Joseph Cordell practiced law for a year at a large St. Louis law firm before he and Yvonne founded Cordell & Cordell in 1990 as a general practice law firm. Today, Cordell & Cordell has grown to become the largest domestic relations firm in the United States and internationally, with more than 300 lawyers and more than 80 offices across the United States and United Kingdom.

The Cordells received a 2017 Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Award from the School of Law, where Joseph Cordell is on the Law National Council, and Yvonne Cordell has served on the school’s Scholarship Initiative Committee. Together, they served as volunteers for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University from 2012-18. In addition to the couple’s support for the Cordell Institute, they are members of the Danforth Circle at the Chancellor’s Level and Life Patrons of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, and have given generously for scholarships at the law school.

Yvonne Cordell, who stopped practicing law in 1996, remains active in a number of charitable organizations, serves in leadership roles at their church, and is pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies at Concordia Theological Seminary. Joseph Cordell serves as principal partner at Cordell & Cordell, and is frequently featured in national media outlets. He also speaks at various seminars on topics ranging from domestic relations to elder law and estate planning. The couple has two daughters, Caroline and Elizabeth.

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