Do researchers have an obligation to actively look for genetic incidental findings?

Am J Bioeth. 2013;13(2):32-42. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2012.754062.


The rapid growth of next-generation genetic sequencing has prompted debate about the responsibilities of researchers toward genetic incidental findings. Assuming there is a duty to disclose significant incidental findings, might there be an obligation for researchers to actively look for these findings? We present an ethical framework for analyzing whether there is a positive duty to look for genetic incidental findings. Using the ancillary care framework as a guide, we identify three main criteria that must be present to give rise to an obligation to look: high benefit to participants, lack of alternative access for participants, and reasonable burden on researchers. Our analysis indicates that there is no obligation to look for incidental findings today, but during the ongoing translation of genomic analysis from research to clinical care, this obligation may arise.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information
  • Beneficence
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Ethics, Research
  • Forecasting
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Genome, Human
  • Health Resources
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Research Personnel / ethics*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics
  • Workload