The recent research and technology development in medical genomics has raised new issues that are profoundly different from those encountered in traditional clinical research for which informed consent was developed. Global initiatives for international collaboration and public participation in genomics research now face an increasing demand for new forms of informed consent which reflect local contexts. This article analyzes informed consent forms (ICFs) for genomic research formulated by four selected research programs and institutes in East Asia - the Medical Genome Science Program in Japan, Universiti Sains Malaysia Human Research Ethics Committee in Malaysia, and the Taiwan Biobank and the Taipei Medical University- Joint Institutional Review Board in Taiwan. The comparative text analysis highlights East Asian contexts as distinct from other regions by identifying communicative and social functions of consent forms. The communicative functions include re-contact options and offering interactive support for research participants, and setting opportunities for family or community engagement in the consent process. This implies that informed consent cannot be validated solely with the completion of a consent form at the initial stage of the research, and informed consent templates can facilitate interactions between researchers and participants through (even before and after) the research process. The social functions consist of informing participants of possible social risks that include genetic discrimination, sample and data sharing, and highlighting the role of ethics committees. Although international ethics harmonization and the subsequent coordination of consent forms may be necessary to maintain the quality and consistency of consent process for data-intensive international research, it is also worth paying more attention to the local values and different settings that exist where research participants are situated for research in medical genomics. More than simply tools to gain consent from research participants, ICFs function rather as a device of social communication between research communities and civic communities in liaison with intermediary agents like ethics committees, genetic counselors, and public biobanks and databases.
Keywords: community engagement; consent documents; family consent; group consent; medical genomics.