Biobank Research : Individual Rights and Public Benefit

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to investigate the relationship between individuals and society in the context of healthcare and medical research, more specifically concerning the rights and duties of individuals in regard to biobank-based research. My starting point is that we all have a strong vested interest in improved healthcare, and therefore the possibilities to conduct important research should be optimized. In the first article, I investigate whether individual results from research using samples in large-scale biobanks should be returned. I conclude that there is good reason not to implement such policies, and instead to allocate available resources to pursuing medical advances. In the second article, I compare consent for using stored samples in research with consent for organ donation, whereby many countries have adopted opt-out strategies in order to increase the number of organs available. I claim that the default position should be changed in biobank research as well, i.e. it should be presumed that individuals want to contribute rather than that they do not. In the third article, I argue that safeguarding autonomy by requiring informed consent for using samples in research not only defeats the interests of society but also runs counter to the interests of the individuals the policy purports to protect. Finally, in the fourth article I suggest that it is reasonable to view participation in medical research from the perspective of a social contract, built on our mutual need for medical advances, and that this implies that there is a moral duty to adhere to the contract by allowing one’s samples to be used in research. A central conclusion in this thesis is that biobank research should be viewed as a natural part of healthcare, like quality control, method development and teaching, and that as such, it ought to be endorsed and facilitated.