Anticipate and communicate: Ethical management of incidental and secondary findings in the clinical, research, and direct-to-consumer contexts (December 2013 report of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues)

Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Sep 15;180(6):562-4. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu217. Epub 2014 Aug 22.


Genomic population research increases the possibility of finding genetic coding anomalies that are not the primary object of research but may have significance for the current and future medical care of research participants and progeny. The December 2013 Report of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Anticipate and Communicate: Ethical Management of Incidental and Secondary Findings in the Clinical, Research, and Direct-to-Consumer Contexts ( recommends that a researcher anticipate these findings and make a plan that addresses which findings will be communicated to research participants and how. Following these recommendations will be disruptive for both investigators and institutional review boards (IRBs) until the research community reaches consensus, or a mechanism for evolving consensus, on which results should be returned to research participants. A protocol-by-protocol approach, though laborious, makes sense for both investigators and IRBs as the research community thinks through the implications of genomic research. Epidemiologists will note that discussion of the return of results and the plan for communicating findings should be included in both the participant consent agreement and the research protocol submitted to the IRB.

Keywords: bioethics; disclosure; genetics; informed consent; privacy.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues
  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Disclosure / ethics*
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Evidence-Based Practice / standards
  • Genetic Privacy / ethics
  • Genetic Research / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Informed Consent / ethics*