The advent of large-scale, population genetic databases (PGDs) in several countries around the world marks a significant development in human DNA banking and genetic research. The European countries that have led the way in the development of PGDs are Iceland, Sweden, Estonia and the U.K. In legal terms, the emergence of PGDs has been far from straightforward as such projects pose a range of difficult and complex issues for the law to address. This article canvasses the current law in Iceland, Estonia, Sweden and the U.K. on four fundamental issues of principle pertaining to PGDs, in order to illustrate the difficulties that have emerged around PGDs, highlight key areas of legal concern, and shed light on possible ways forward. It compares and contrasts the differing legal positions and lawmakers' responses to date in these four European countries that have established PGDs or are seeking to do so. The four fundamental issues examined are: (1) consent, especially for secondary research purposes; (2) ownership of biological samples, data and databases; (3) the rights of certain third parties to gain access to, and to use, PGD biological samples and data; and (4) benefit sharing, including the provision of feedback and genetic counselling to participants. This analysis may offer some guidance for policymakers in other jurisdictions where PGDs have been proposed or are being established.
Consent forms are the principal method for obtaining informed consent from biomedical research participants. The significance of these forms is increasing as more secondary research is undertaken on existing research samples and information, and samples are deposited in biobanks accessible to many researchers. We reviewed a selection of consent forms used in European Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) and identified four common elements that were found in every consent form. Our analysis showed that only two of the four most commonly found elements in our sample of informed consent forms were required in UK law. This raises questions about what should be put in informed consent forms for research participants. These findings could be beneficial for the formulation of participant information and consent documentation in the future studies.
Analyses of individuals’ genomes — their entire DNA sequence — have increased knowledge about the links between genetics and disease. Anticipated advances in ‘next generation’ DNA-sequencing techniques will see the routine research use of whole genomes, rather than distinct parts, within the next few years. The scientific benefits of genomic research are, however, accompanied by legal and ethical concerns. Despite the assumption that genetic research data can and will be rendered anonymous, participants’ identities can sometimes be elucidated, which could cause data protection legislation to apply. We undertake a timely reappraisal of these laws — particularly new penalties — and identifiability in genomic research.