Image of binary and dna

Assessing genetic relationships between academia and industry

By Kayte Spector-Bagdady JD, MBioethics
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology; Research Ethics Service, Center for Bioethics & Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI

With recent reports of Google’s data deals with Ascension health and the University of Chicago, there has been a lot of attention paid recently to the sharing and use of health data by unexpected entities.

But we know that patients are uncomfortable when hospitals “commercialize” or sell their health data or biospecimens to industry. In fact, the recent revisions to the human subjects research regulations included a specific biospecimen commercialization disclosure requirement.

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close up of DNA fingerprints

DNA databases, cracking crimes, and confidentiality

By: Leslie E. Wolf, JD, MPH, Georgia State University College of Law, Interim Dean and Distinguished University Professor and Laura M. Beskow, MPH, PhD, Ann Geddes Stahlman Chair in Medical Ethics, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In our article, Genomic databases, subpoenas, and Certificates of Confidentiality, published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), we considered the protections available to research genomic databases in light of law enforcement’s use of ancestry databases to help solve crimes.

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Scientist analyzes DNA gel used in genetics, forensics, drug discovery, biology and medicine

Time to Ban Heritable Genome Editing

By Jeffrey R. Botkin, MD, MPH, Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Ethics at University of Utah

We are at a critical crossroad in reproductive medicine.  How should science and society more broadly manage the powerful new technologies that can alter the genes of human embryos?  In a recent paper published in Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), I argue that banning the use of this technology editing human embryo is the right direction.

Concerns over theoretical capabilities of “designer babies” have been with us for generations.  The ability screen and test for embryos and fetuses with undesirable characteristics and forestall their birth is well-developed and familiar. But the actual ability to add, subtract or alter genes in the embryo is quite new.  The CRISPR-Cas9 technology and related technologies burst on the scene in the last decade and the ability to relatively easily and cheaply to alter human embryos is no longer science fiction.

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petri dish with DNA fingerprint

3 Things You Should Know About the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2019 Annual Conference

Breakthroughs in genetics have often raised complex ethical and legal questions, which loom ever larger as genetic testing is becoming more commonplace, affordable, and comprehensive, and genetic editing becomes poised to be a consumer technology. As genetic technologies become more accessible to individuals, the ethical and legal questions around the consumer use of these technologies become more pressing.

We are excited, therefore, to have many major thought leaders in this space discuss these issues at the Petrie-Flom Annual Conference, “Consuming Genetics: Ethical and Legal Considerations of New Technologies,” which will take place at Harvard Law School in May. Read More

DNA Donors Must Demand Stronger Privacy Protection

By Mason Marks and Tiffany Li

An earlier version of this article was published in STAT.

The National Institutes of Health wants your DNA, and the DNA of one million other Americans, for an ambitious project called All of Us. Its goal — to “uncover paths toward delivering precision medicine” — is a good one. But until it can safeguard participants’ sensitive genetic information, you should decline the invitation to join unless you fully understand and accept the risks.

DNA databases like All of Us could provide valuable medical breakthroughs such as identifying new disease risk factors and potential drug targets. But these benefits could come with a high price: increased risk to individuals’ genetic data privacy, something that current U.S. laws do not adequately protect. Read More

Should a patient have a right not to know genetic information about him or herself?

By Benjamin E. Berkman, JD, MPH

While promising to eventually revolutionize medicine, the capacity to cheaply and quickly generate an individual’s entire genome has not been without controversy.  Producing information on this scale seems to violate some of the accepted norms governing how to practice medicine, norms that evolved during the early years of genetic testing when a targeted paradigm dominated.  One of these widely accepted norms was that an individual had a right not to know (“RNTK”) genetic information about him or herself.  Prompted by evolving professional practice guidelines, the RNTK has become a highly controversial topic.  The medical community and bioethicists are actively engaged in a contentious debate about the extent to which individual choice should play a role (if at all) in determining which clinically significant findings are returned.

In a recent paper published in Genetics in Medicine, my coauthors and I provide some data that illuminates this and other issues. Our survey of 800 IRB members and staff about their views on incidental findings demonstrates how malleable views on the RNTK can be.  Respondents were first asked about the RNTK in the abstract: “Do research participants have a right not to know their own genetic information?  In other words, would it be acceptable for them to choose not to receive any GIFs?”  An overwhelming majority (96%) endorsed the right not-to-know.  But when asked about a case where a specific patient has chosen not to receive clinically beneficial incidental findings, only 35% indicated that the individual’s RNTK should definitely be respected, and 28% said that they would probably honor the request not to know.  Interestingly, the percentage of respondents who indicated that they do not support the RNTK increased from 2% at baseline to 26% when presented with the specific case.  The percentage of people who are unsure similarly jumps, from 1% to 11%.

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Neuroimaging as Evidence of Pain: It’s Time to Prepare

By Henry T. Greely, Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, Stanford Law School; Professor (by courtesy) of Genetics, Stanford Medical School; Director, Program in Neuroscience & Society, Stanford University

The recent meeting at Harvard on neuroimaging, pain, and the law demonstrated powerfully that the offering of neuroimaging as evidence of pain, in court and in administrative hearings, is growing closer. The science for identifying a likely pattern of neuroimaging results strongly associated with the subjective sensation of pain keeps improving. Two companies (and here) recently were founded to provide electro-encephalography (EEG) evidence of the existence of pain. And at least one neuroscientist has been providing expert testimony that a particular neuroimaging signal detected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is useful evidence of the existence of pain, as discussed recently in Nature.

If nothing more is done, neuroimaging evidence of pain will be offered, accepted, rejected, relied upon, and discounted in the normal, chaotic course of the law’s evolution. A “good” result, permitting appropriate use of some valid neuroimaging evidence and rejecting inappropriate use of other such evidence, might come about. Or it might not.

We can do better than this existing non-system. And the time to start planning a better approach is now. (Read on for more on how)

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