The Web of Legal Protections for Participants in Genomic Research

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Health Matrix

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The identification and arrest of the Golden State Killer using DNA uploaded to an ancestry database occurred shortly before recruitment for the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) All of Us Study commenced, with its goal of enrolling and collecting DNA, health, and lifestyle information from one million Americans. It also highlighted the need to ensure prospective research participants that their confidentiality will be protected and their materials used appropriately. But there are questions about how well current law protects against these privacy risks. This article is the first to consider comprehensively and simultaneously all the federal and state laws offering protections to participants in genomic research. The literature typically focuses on the federal laws in isolation, questioning the strengths of federal legal protections for genomic research participants provided in the Common Rule, the HIPAA Privacy Rule, or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Nevertheless, we found significant numbers and surprising variety of state laws that provide greater protections than federal laws, often filling in federal gaps by broadening the applicability of privacy or nondiscrimination standards or by providing important remedies for individuals harmed by breaches. Identifying and explaining the protections these laws provide is significant both to allow prospective participants to accurately weigh the risks of enrolling in these studies and as models for how federal legal protections could be expanded to fill known gaps.


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Leslie E. Wolf, Erin Fuse Brown, Ryan Kerr, Genevieve Razick, Gregory Tanner, Brett Duvall, Sakinah Jones, Jack Brackney, & Tatiana Posada, The Web of Legal Protections for Participants in Genomic Research, 29 Health Matrix 1 (2019).





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