Ethical concerns on sharing genomic data including patients’ family members (Takashima K)


Kyoko Takashima, Yuichi Maru, Seiichi Mori, Hiroyuki Mano, Tetsuo Noda, Kaori Muto

Ethical concerns on sharing genomic data including patients' family members

BMC Medical Ethics 2018;19:61


Platforms for sharing genomic and phenotype data have been developed to promote genomic research, while maximizing the utility of existing datasets and minimizing the burden on participants. The value of genomic analysis of trios or family members has increased, especially in rare diseases and cancers. This article aims to argue the necessity of protection when sharing data from both patients and family members.

Main text

Sharing patients' and family members' data collectively raises an ethical tension between the value of datasets and the rights of participants, and increases the risk of re-identification. However, current data-sharing policies have no specific safeguards or provisions for familial data sharing. A quantitative survey conducted on 10,881 general adults in Japan indicated that they expected stronger protection mechanisms when their family members' clinical and/or genomic data were shared together, as compared to when only their data were shared. A framework that respects decision-making and the right of withdrawal of participants, including family members, along with ensuring usefulness and security of data is needed. To enable this, we propose recommendations on ancillary safeguards for familial data sharing according to the stakeholders, namely, initial researchers, genomic researchers, data submitters, database operators, institutional review boards, and the public and participants.


Families have played significant roles in genetic research, and its value is re-illuminated in the era of genomic medicine. It is important to make progress in data sharing while simultaneously protecting the privacy and interests of patients and families, and return its benefits to them.