What is a meaningful result? Disclosing the results of genomic research in autism to research participants

Eur J Hum Genet. 2010 Aug;18(8):867-71. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2010.34. Epub 2010 Mar 17.


Developments in genomics research have been accompanied by a controversial ethical injunction: that researchers disclose individually relevant research results to research participants. With the explosion of genomic research on complex psychiatric conditions such as autism, researchers must increasingly contend with whether--and which results--to report. We conducted a qualitative study with researchers and participants involved in autism genomics research, including 4 focus groups and 23 interviews with parents of autistic children, and 23 interviews with researchers. Respondents considered genomic research results 'reportable' when results were perceived to explain cause, and answer the question 'why;' that is, respondents set a standard for reporting individually relevant genetic research results to individual participants that is specific to autism, reflecting the metaphysical value that genetic information is seen to offer in this context. In addition to this standard of meaning, respondents required that results be deemed 'true.' Here, respondents referenced standards of validity that were context nonspecific. Yet in practice, what qualified as 'true' depended on evidentiary standards within specific research disciplines as well as fundamental, and contested, theories about how autism is 'genetic.' For research ethics, these finding suggest that uniform and context-free obligations regarding result disclosure cannot readily be specified. For researchers, they suggest that result disclosure to individuals should be justified not only by perceived meaning but also by clarity regarding appropriate evidentiary standards, and attention to the status of epistemological debates regarding the nature and cause of disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / genetics*
  • Codes of Ethics
  • Disclosure / ethics*
  • Ethics, Research
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Research Design
  • Research Personnel / ethics*
  • Research Subjects
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*