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09/10/2013

Privacy and Whole Genome Sequencing

–>Privacy is a big topic that’s getting bigger and more complicated every day. People increasingly accept that just about anyone can find information about them on the Internet. Indeed, millions make it easier by sharing details on social media.

With respect to health and healthcare, it’s thrilling to look forward to a time when cures are found and people who have banked their genetic code can be contacted to learn about and benefit from them.  
At the same time, many are concerned about potentially negative consequences of the availability of genetic information. What if, in the wrong hands, it could affect health insurance, employment, loans, a divorce or custody case, even the chance of finding a spouse – not only for the individual but other living and future relatives?
The Center for Practical Bioethics’ 2013 Fall Symposium, “Ethical Frontiers in the Brave New World of Genomics and Learning Health Systems” on November 8 will explore the ethical implications of whole genome sequencing in light of its rapid growth and importance to Learning Health Systems, where knowledge is drawn from every encounter, both research and clinical, yet policies regarding the handling of data differ substantially. 
The Presidential Commission and Beyond
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues’ report submitted to President Obama in October 2012, “Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing,” made recommendations in six areas:
·      Strong baseline protections while promoting data access and sharing
·      Data security and access to databases
·      Informed consent process
·      Facilitating progress in whole genome sequencing
·      Public benefit from medical advances that result from whole genome sequencing
“The Presidential Commission’s work and the Center’s Symposium,” said Alan Rubel, JD, PhD, “are first steps in the process of tailoring the apparatus we already have in place to deal with the problems inherent in whole genome sequencing.” Dr. Rubel served as an advisor to the Presidential Commission, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, and will join the faculty at the Symposium.
Procedures to Drive Benefit & Minimize Risk
“The potential for people to benefit and suffer negative consequences from whole genome sequencing is substantial enough that we need to develop procedures to ensure that we derive the most benefit without jeopardizing people’s well being,” said Dr. Rubel. “How information is used isn’t always clear. There ought to be some way – some standard language – to convey what the possibilities are so that people donating material or having their genome sequenced can be said to properly consent. There are issues of data security as well.”
Dr. Rubel is a strong proponent of providing more and better information to the public about what whole genome sequencing can and cannot do. “Many conditions have to do with chronic and environmental disease that can be prevented by changes in lifestyle, independent of genomics, and may be better addressed without getting into genomics.”
He also believes that concerns about privacy often mask other worries that may be best understood as issues of justice. “If, for example, our worry is that genetic information being disclosed will harm our employment, it may be that the real problem is how vulnerable people are in terms of employment, and if we deal with that, the genetic issue goes away.”
About the Symposium
At this Symposium, you will:
·      Hear updates on progress in the brave new world of genetic science.
·      Gain insight into ethical issues around data collection, privacy and informed consent, especially as they apply to genomics and Learning Health Systems.
·      Explore what type of ethical framework is needed to advance research while protecting human subjects in Learning Health Systems.
Register now at https://www.practicalbioethics.org/register-learning-health-systems. For more information, contact Cindy Leyland at 816-979-1357 or cleyland@practicalbioethics.org.

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