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Privacy protection and public goods: building a genetic database for health research in Newfoundland and Labrador

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Patricia Kosseim, Daryl Pullman, Astrid Perrot-Daley, Kathy Hodgkinson, Catherine Street, Proton Rahman
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/amiajnl-2012-001009 38-43 First published online: 1 January 2013

Abstract

Objective To provide a legal and ethical analysis of some of the implementation challenges faced by the Population Therapeutics Research Group (PTRG) at Memorial University (Canada), in using genealogical information offered by individuals for its genetics research database.

Materials and methods This paper describes the unique historical and genetic characteristics of the Newfoundland and Labrador founder population, which gave rise to the opportunity for PTRG to build the Newfoundland Genealogy Database containing digitized records of all pre-confederation (1949) census records of the Newfoundland founder population. In addition to building the database, PTRG has developed the Heritability Analytics Infrastructure, a data management structure that stores genotype, phenotype, and pedigree information in a single database, and custom linkage software (KINNECT) to perform pedigree linkages on the genealogy database.

Discussion A newly adopted legal regimen in Newfoundland and Labrador is discussed. It incorporates health privacy legislation with a unique research ethics statute governing the composition and activities of research ethics boards and, for the first time in Canada, elevating the status of national research ethics guidelines into law. The discussion looks at this integration of legal and ethical principles which provides a flexible and seamless framework for balancing the privacy rights and welfare interests of individuals, families, and larger societies in the creation and use of research data infrastructures as public goods.

Conclusion The complementary legal and ethical frameworks that now coexist in Newfoundland and Labrador provide the legislative authority, ethical legitimacy, and practical flexibility needed to find a workable balance between privacy interests and public goods. Such an approach may also be instructive for other jurisdictions as they seek to construct and use biobanks and related research platforms for genetic research.

Keywords
  • Privacy
  • public good
  • genetic research
  • genealogy
  • legal
  • ethical
  • Newfoundland

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