The legal risks of returning results of genomics research

Genet Med. 2012 Apr;14(4):473-7. doi: 10.1038/gim.2012.10. Epub 2012 Feb 9.


Published guidelines suggest that research results and incidental findings should be offered to study participants under some circumstances. Although some have argued against the return of results in research, many cite an emerging consensus that there is an ethical obligation to return at least some results; the debate quickly turns to issues of mechanics (e.g., which results? who discloses? for how long does the obligation exist?). Although commentators are careful to distinguish this as an ethical rather than legal obligation, we worry that return of results may unjustifiably become standard of care based on this growing "consensus," which could quickly lead to a legal (negligence-based) duty to offer and return individualized genetic research results. We caution against this and argue in this essay that the debate to date has failed to give adequate weight to a number of fundamental ethical and policy issues that should undergird policy on return of research results in the first instance, many of which go to the fundamental differences between research and clinical care. We confine our comments to research using data from large biobanks, the topic of the guidelines proposed in this symposium issue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Biomedical Research / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data
  • Genetics, Medical / ethics
  • Genetics, Medical / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Genetics, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Genomics / ethics
  • Genomics / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Genomics / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Research Subjects / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics
  • Risk Assessment / ethics
  • Risk Assessment / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics