The Uneasy Ethical and Legal Underpinnings of Large-Scale Genomic Biobanks
Abstract Large-scale genomic databases are becoming increasingly common. These databases, and the underlying biobanks, pose several substantial legal and ethical problems. Neither the usual methods for protecting subject confidentiality, nor even anonymity, are likely to protect subjects' identities in richly detailed databases. Indeed, in these settings, anonymity is itself ethically suspect. New methods of consent will need to be created to replace the blanket consent common to such endeavors, with a consent procedure that gives subjects some real control over what they might consider inappropriate use of their information and biological material. Through their use, these biobanks are also likely to yield information that will be of some clinical significance to the subjects, information that they should have access to. Failure to adjust to these new challenges is not only legally and ethically inappropriate, but puts at risk the political support on which biomedical research depends.
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