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Hey, Remember When Newt Gingrich Was Sponsored By a Human Chip-Implant Company?

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich once spoke at an Alzheimer's conference sponsored by PositiveID (PSID), the human microchip implant company that came under fire for injecting 200 Alzheimer's patients with wireless chips in Florida without properly obtaining their consent.

The issue of whether Americans should receive subcutaneous wireless RFID chip implants that can link to their electronic medical records emerged again in Wisconsin this week, where former governor and Bush Administration secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson is considering a run for Senate. Thompson was a former board member of VeriChip, the company that renamed itself PositiveID, and once appeared on CNBC with PositiveID CEO Scott Silverman to advocate that everyone receive a chip from birth:

Naturally, conservatives and privacy advocates were appalled. Thompson has not yet announced whether he will run. Gingrich, obviously, is already campaigning for the White House in 2012. His campaign faltered recently when he criticized the House GOP Medicare reform plan as an example of "right-wing social engineering." Many conservatives similarly believe that implanted health record microchips are a gross invasion of privacy.

Gingrich was the June 4 keynote speaker at the 2010, Alzheimer's Educational Conference in West Palm Beach, Fla. The conference was "presented by PositiveID," and CEO Silverman was one of two "conference co-chairs." A PositiveID press release touted Silverman's role in bringing Gingrich to the conference:

In this role, Mr. Silverman and PositiveID partnered with the Center for Health Transformation to bring Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Founder, Center for Health Transformation, Newt Gingrich as the keynote speaker.
The conference occurred a little more than three months after the James Randi Educational Foundation -- which debunks pseudoscience -- reported that PositiveID had performed a "study" on 200 Alzheimer's patients in a Florida nursing home without the ethical supervision of an institutional review board. An IRB panel -- made up of experts and laypersons -- must sign off on all medical experiments on humans. The patients were unable to consent to the experiment themselves, so PositiveID obtained consent forms from their guardians, the Randi Foundation reported. The company should have obtained consent from both the patients and their guardians, the foundation stated.

Gingrich was at the conference, in part, to promote his "National Alzheimer's Strategic Plan." The plan doesn't say anything specific about chips and Alzheimer's patients, but it does call for a massive new investment in digital health records (which PositiveID believes could be linked to its VeriChip/VeriMed/Health Link microchip product):

This value case should integrate systems to enhance the interoperability of electronic health records across traditional healthcare providers and with community agencies that provide key services to individuals and their caregivers.

As noted by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, interoperable, standards based electronic health information systems and health records are a critical infrastructure for delivering such care. However, it is essential that this infrastructure be designed to effectively address the challenges that health professionals encounter when providing care to patients with dementia.

Thompson left the board of VeriChip in 2007 and apparently did not get a chip himself.


Image by Wikimedia, CC.
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