Understanding incidental findings in the context of genetics and genomics

J Law Med Ethics. Summer 2008;36(2):280-5, 212. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2008.00270.x.


Human genetic and genomic research can yield information that may be of clinical relevance to the individuals who participate as subjects of the research. It has been common practice among researchers to notify participants during the informed consent process that no individual results will be disclosed, "incidental" or otherwise. However, as genetic information obtained in research becomes orders of magnitude more voluminous, increasingly accessible online, and more informative, this precedent may no longer be appropriate. There is not yet consensus on the responsibilities of researchers to disclose individual research results to research participants. Empirical research suggests that participants want to know individual research results. On the other hand, the increased resolution and power afforded by new genomic analyses may lead to findings of statistical, but not necessarily clinical, significance. This paper addresses the issues to be considered in deciding whether and how to disclose "incidental" findings or other findings of clinical significance that arise in the course of human genomic and genetic research. What research results should be offered, and what should not be offered? For which research should individual results be offered to research participants, when should they be offered, how, and to whom?

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Disclosure*
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Genomics / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*