Is there a duty to reinterpret genetic data? The ethical dimensions

Genet Med. 2020 Mar;22(3):633-639. doi: 10.1038/s41436-019-0679-7. Epub 2019 Oct 15.


The evolving evidence base for the interpretation of variants identified in genetic and genomic testing has presented the genetics community with the challenge of variant reinterpretation. In particular, it is unclear whether an ethical duty of periodic reinterpretation should exist, who should bear that duty, and what its dimensions should be. Based on an analysis of the ethical arguments for and against a duty to reinterpret, we conclude that a duty should be recognized. Most importantly, by virtue of ordering and conducting tests likely to produce data on variants that cannot be definitively interpreted today, the health-care system incurs a duty to reinterpret when more reliable data become available. We identify four elements of the proposed ethical duty: data storage, initiation of reinterpretation, conduct of reinterpretation, and patient recontact, and we identify the parties best situated to implement each component. We also consider the reasonable extent and duration of a duty, and the role of the patient's consent in the process, although we acknowledge that some details regarding procedures and funding still need to be addressed. The likelihood of substantial patient benefit from a systematic approach to reinterpretation suggests the importance for the genetics community to reach consensus on this issue.

Keywords: ELSI; genetic testing; reinterpretation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Genetic Testing / ethics*
  • Genetic Testing / standards
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / standards*