Changing perspectives in biobank research: from individual rights to concerns about public health regarding the return of results

Eur J Hum Genet. 2009 Dec;17(12):1544-9. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.87. Epub 2009 May 27.


During the past decade, various guidelines that imply a duty for researchers to disclose information obtained through research to participants have emerged. The character and extent of this obligation have been debated extensively, with much attention devoted to the decisiveness of the validity and utility of the results in question. The aim of this paper is to argue that individual results from research on materials stored in large-scale biobanks, consisting of samples taken within the healthcare system or of altruistically donated materials, should not be returned. We will defend the thesis that medical research on these biobanks should be viewed as a collective project to improve public health, and that available resources should be utilized to pursue this goal. We argue that there is a need for a change of perspectives. Medical research should not primarily be viewed as a danger that individuals must be protected from, but rather be recognized as constituting a necessary defense against current and future diseases. Research that bears the prospect of advancing medicine and that can be carried out at no risk to individuals should be endorsed and facilitated. This calls for a shift of focus from autonomy and individual rights toward collective responsibility and solidarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Duty to Recontact / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Patient Rights / ethics*
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Therapeutic Misconception / ethics
  • Tissue Banks / ethics*