Managing incidental findings in population based biobank research

Berge Solberg, Kristin Solum Steinsbekk

Abstract


With the introduction of whole genome sequencing in medical research, the debate on how to handle incidental findings is becoming omnipresent. Much of the literature on the topic so far, seems to defend the researcher’s duty to inform, the participant’s right to know combined with a thorough informed consent in order to protect and secure high ethical standards in research. In this paper, we argue that this ethical response to incidental findings and whole genome sequencing is appropriate in a clinical context, in what we call therapeutic research. However, we further argue, that it is rather inappropriate in basic research, like the research going on in public health oriented population based biobanks. Our argument is based on two premises: First, in population based biobank research the duties and rights involved are radically different from a clinical based setting. Second, to introduce the ethical framework from the clinical setting into population based basic research, is not only wrong, but it may lead to unethical consequences. A Norwegian population based biobank and the research-ethical debate in Norway on the regulation of whole genome sequencing is used as an illustrative case to demonstrate the pitfalls when approaching the debate on incidental findings in population based biobank research.

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