Whole-genome analysis and whole-exome analysis generate many more clinically actionable findings than traditional targeted genetic analysis. These findings may be relevant to research participants themselves as well as for members of their families. Though researchers performing genomic analyses are likely to find medically significant genetic variations for nearly every research participant, what they will find for any given participant is unpredictable. The ubiquity and diversity of these findings complicate questions about disclosing individual genetic test results. We outline an approach for disclosing a select range of genetic results to the relatives of research participants who have died, developed in response to relatives’ requests during a pilot study of large-scale medical genetic sequencing. We also argue that studies that disclose individual research results to participants should, at a minimum, passively disclose individual results to deceased participants’ relatives.
In many countries worldwide, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, a shortage of physicians limits the provision of lifesaving interventions. One existing strategy to increase the number of physicians in areas of critical shortage is conditioning medical school scholarships on a precommitment to work in medically underserved areas later. Current practice is usually to demand only one year of service for each year of funded studies. We show the effectiveness of scholarships conditional on such precommitment for increasing physician supplies in underserved areas. Then we defend these scholarships against ethical worries that they constitute slavery contracts; rely on involuntary, biased, or unauthorized early consent by a young signatory; put excessive strains on signed commitments; give rise to domination; and raise suspicion of slavery contracts. Importantly, we find that scholarships involving far longer commitment than current practice allows would also withstand these worries. Policymakers should consider introducing conditional scholarships, including long-term versions, as a means to increasing the supply of physicians to medically underserved areas.
Patient and citizen participation is now regarded as central to the promotion of sustainable health and health care. Involvement efforts create and encounter many diverse ethical challenges that have the potential to enhance or undermine their success. This article examines different expressions of patient and citizen participation and the support health ethics offers. It is contended that despite its prominence and the link between patient empowerment and autonomy, traditional bioethics is insufficient to guide participation efforts. In addition, the turn to a “social paradigm” of ethics in examinations of biotechnologies and public health does not provide an account of values that is commensurable with the pervasive autonomy paradigm. This exacerbates rather than eases tensions for patients and citizens endeavoring to engage with health. Citizen and patient participation must have a significant influence on the way we do health ethics if its potential is to be fulfilled.
Clinical research under the usual regulatory constraints may be difficult or even impossible in a public health emergency. Regulators must seek to strike a good balance in granting as wide therapeutic access to new drugs as possible at the same time as gathering sound evidence of safety and effectiveness. To inform current policy, I reexamine the philosophical rationale for restricting new medicines to clinical trials, at any stage and for any population of patients (which resides in the precautionary principle), to show that its objective to protect public health, now or in the future, could soon be defeated in a pandemic. Providing wider therapeutic access and coordinating observations and natural experiments, including service delivery by cluster (wedged cluster trials), may provide such a balance. However, there are important questions of fairness to resolve before any such research can proceed.
Debate surrounding the SUPPORT study highlights the absence of consensus regarding what information should be disclosed to potential research participants. Some commentators endorse the view that clinical research should be subject to high disclosure standards, even when it is testing standard-of-care interventions. Others argue that trials assessing standard-of-care interventions need to disclose only the information that is disclosed in the clinical care setting. To resolve this debate, it is important to identify the ethical concerns raised by clinical research and determine what consent process is needed to address them.
The rapid growth of next-generation genetic sequencing has prompted debate about the responsibilities of researchers toward genetic incidental findings. Assuming there is a duty to disclose significant incidental findings, might there be an obligation for researchers to actively look for these findings? We present an ethical framework for analyzing whether there is a positive duty to look for genetic incidental findings. Using the ancillary care framework as a guide, we identify three main criteria that must be present to give rise to an obligation to look: high benefit to participants, lack of alternative access for participants, and reasonable burden on researchers. Our analysis indicates that there is no obligation to look for incidental findings today, but during the ongoing translation of genomic analysis from research to clinical care, this obligation may arise.
The Office of Human Research Protections was not justified in issuing findings against the SUPPORT Institutions. Our community can learn from the evolving healthcare transformation into learning health systems by thinking about the novel ethical issues about standard of care research raised by the SUPPORT with the same spirit of quality improvement. The current regulatory framework and the concept of foreseeable research risks is insufficient to advance the debate about the ethics of randomization of standard clinical interventions. This article uses the example of the Wisconsin cystic fibrosis randomized clinical trial for newborn screening trial to explore the distinctions between risks of research and clinical care and waivers of informed consent for randomization. Collaborative exploration of these complex policy issues is needed and further deliberation, community engagement, and social science research will be critical to advance novel approaches for informed consent.
From a twenty-first century partnership between bioethics and neuroscience, the modern field of neuroethics is emerging, and technologies enabling functional neuroimaging with unprecedented sensitivity have brought new ethical, social and legal issues to the forefront. Some issues, akin to those surrounding modern genetics, raise critical questions regarding prediction of disease, privacy and identity. However, with new and still-evolving insights into our neurobiology and previously unquantifiable features of profoundly personal behaviors such as social attitude, value and moral agency, the difficulty of carefully and properly interpreting the relationship between brain findings and our own self-concept is unprecedented. Therefore, while the ethics of genetics provides a legitimate starting point—even a backbone—for tackling ethical issues in neuroimaging, they do not suffice. Drawing on recent neuroimaging findings and their plausible real-world applications, we argue that interpretation of neuroimaging data is a key epistemological and ethical challenge. This challenge is two-fold. First, at the scientific level, the sheer complexity of neuroscience research poses challenges for integration of knowledge and meaningful interpretation of data. Second, at the social and cultural level, we find that interpretations of imaging studies are bound by cultural and anthropological frameworks. In particular, the introduction of concepts of self and personhood in neuroimaging illustrates the interaction of interpretation levels and is a major reason why ethical reflection on genetics will only partially help settle neuroethical issues. Indeed, ethical interpretation of such findings will necessitate not only traditional bioethical input but also a wider perspective on the construction of scientific knowledge.
As one of the most compelling technologies for imaging the brain, functional MRI (fMRI) produces measurements and persuasive pictures of research subjects making cognitive judgments and even reasoning through difficult moral decisions. Even after centuries of studying the link between brain and behavior, this capability presents a number of novel significant questions. For example, what are the implications of biologizing human experience? How might neuroimaging disrupt the mysteries of human nature, spirituality, and personal identity? Rather than waiting for an ethical agenda to emerge from some unpredictable combination of the concerns of ethicists and researchers, the attention of journalists, or after controversy is sparked by research that cannot be retracted, we queried key figures in bioethics and the humanities, neuroscience, media, industry, and patient advocacy in focus groups and interviews. We identified specific ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) that highlight researcher obligations and the nonclinical impact of the technology at this new frontier.