The ethics of biobanking: key issues and controversies

Widdows, Heather and Cordell, Sean (2011). The ethics of biobanking: key issues and controversies. Health Care Analysis, 19(3) pp. 207–219.



The ethics of biobanking is one of the most controversial issues in current bioethics and public health debates. For some, biobanks offer the possibility of unprecedented advances which will revolutionise research and improve the health of future generations. For others they are worrying repositories of personal information and tissue which will be used without sufficient respect for those from whom they came. Wherever one stands on this spectrum, from an ethics perspective biobanks are revolutionary. Traditional ethical safeguards of informed consent and confidentiality, for example, simply don’t work for the governance of biobanks and as a result new ethical structures are required. Thus it is not too great a claim to say that biobanks require a rethinking of our ethical assumptions and frameworks which we have applied generally to other issues in ethics. This paper maps the key challenges and controversies of biobanking ethics; it considers; informed consent (its problems in biobanking and possibilities of participants’ withdrawal), broad consent, the problems of confidentiality, ownership, property and comercialisation issues, feedback to participants and the ethics of re-contact.

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