Why communities and their goods matter: illustrated with the example of biobanks

Cordell, Sean and Widdows, Heather (2011). Why communities and their goods matter: illustrated with the example of biobanks. Public Health Ethics, 4(1) pp. 14–25.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/phe/phr009


It is now being recognized across the spectrum of bioethics, and particularly in genetics and population ethics, that to focus on the individual person, and thereby neglect communities and the goods which accrue to them, is to fail to see all the ethically significant features of a range of ethical issues. This article argues that more work needs to be done in order for bioethics to respect not only goods (such as rights and interests) of communities per se, but also to recognize the difference between different types of communities and their goods. The diversity of communities and the types of communal goods which accrue to them is first outlined. Following this, a basic distinction between two such types: aggregative and corporate community goods, is explained and defended, and it is then argued argue that this distinction is necessary to understand and address what and whom is ethically at stake in any situation. This is illustrated with the example of UK Biobank, the conclusion being that if current and future individual are to be respected then communal goods of both types must be recognized and respected in an effective bioethics.

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