Overview of the regulatory framework of European biobanking

October 16, 2013

Unless you have an education in law, it is almost impossible to find your way through the regulatory landscape of European biobanking, or to understand the motives behind the proposed new general data protection regulation.

However, a helpful overview and discussion can be found in this article by Evert-Ben van Veen:

The article also contains some interesting thinking on a number of important issues, like the concept of personal data, the need for a third category of data between personal data and anonymous data, and the role of trust in institutions.

Pär Segerdahl

We recommend readings - the Ethics Blog


Dissertation on trust in biobank research

March 6, 2013

On Saturday, March 9, Linus Johnsson at CRB defends his dissertation:

The dissertation is based on four studies. The first two scrutinize empirical evidence concerning public trust in biobank research. They indicate that people do trust biobank researchers, at least in Sweden.

Such findings might give rise to complacency. The ethical regulatory system obviously works and promotes trust. Biobankers can relax.

The third study, however, is a conceptual investigation showing such a reaction to be mistaken. Trust creates obligations in the person who is being trusted. If a doctor collects samples from patients and suspects that their trust is mistaken in one way or another, the doctor has an obligation to handle that mistaken trust appropriately. (I’ve written about this study on The Ethics Blog.)

Public trust doesn’t merely indicate trustworthiness. It creates a moral demand. The proper response to public trust in biobank researchers, then, is taking increased moral responsibility.

The fourth study strives in the same direction. It critiques prevalent faith that trustworthiness is best quaranteed by an extensive ethical regulatory system (ethical review, guidelines, etc.). The opposite may very well be the case. Such a system may foster moral complacency and failure among researchers to deal with ethical issues that are not addressed by the system.

If I interpret Linus Johnsson right, the current widespread trust in ethical regulatory systems is mistaken, and his dissertation is an attempt to take responsibility for that mistaken trust by intellectually highlighting and critiquing it.

As this brief summary shows, the dissertation is original and presents some very thought-provoking results, empirically and above all conceptually. For more information about the dissertation, see News from Uppsala University.

If you are in Sweden and want to visit the public examination, it takes place in Auditorium Minus, Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala, Saturday, March 9, 2013, at 09:15.

Pär Segerdahl

We recommend readings - the Ethics Blog


Handling mistaken trust when doctors recruit patients as research participants

June 14, 2012

Patients seem more willing to participate in biobank research than the general public. A possible explanation is the doctor-patient relationship. Patients’ trust in health care professionals might help doctors to recruit them as research participants, perhaps making the task too easy.

That trust in doctors can induce a willingness to participate in research seems threatening to the notion of well-informed autonomous decision making. Can sentiments of trust be allowed to play such a prominent role in these processes?

Rather than dismissing trust as a naïve and irrational sentiment, a new article distinguishes between adequate and mistaken trust, and argues that being trusted implies a duty to compensate for mistaken trust.

The article in Bioethics is written by Linus Johnsson at CRB, together with Gert Helgesson, Mats G. Hansson and Stefan Eriksson.

The article discusses tree forms of mistaken trust:

  1. Misplaced trust: Trusted doctors may lack relevant knowledge of biobank research (for example, about the protection of privacy).
  2. Irrational trust: Patients may be mistaken about why they trust the doctor (the doctor may actually be a form of father or mother figure for the patient).
  3. Inappropriate trust: Patients may inappropriately expect doctors always to play the role of therapists and fail to see that doctors sometimes play the role of research representatives who ask patients to contribute to the common good.

The idea in the paper, if I understand it, is that instead of dismissing trust because it might easily be mistaken in these ways, we need to acknowledge that being trusted implies a duty to handle the potentiality of mistaken trust.

Trust is not a one-sided sentiment: it creates responsibilities in the person who is trusted. If doctors take these responsibilities seriously, the relationship of trust immediately begins to look… well, more trustworthy and rational.

How can mistaken forms of trust be compensated for?

Misplaced trust in doctors can be compensated for by developing the relevant expertise (or by dispelling the illusion that one has it). Irrational trust can be compensated for by supporting the patient’s reasoning and moral agency. Inappropriate trust can be compensated for by nurturing a culture with normative expectations that doctors play more than one role; a culture where patients can expect to be asked by the doctor if they want to contribute to the common good.

If patients’ trust is seen in conjunction with these corresponding moral responsibilities of doctors, the relationship of trust can be understood as supporting the patients’ own decision making rather than undermining it.

That, at least, is how I understood this subtle philosophical treatment of trust and its role when patients are recruited by doctors as participants in biobank research.

Pär Segerdahl

We recommend readings - the Ethics Blog


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