What is it about?

Relational aspects, such as involvement of donor’s relatives or friends in the decision-making on participation in a research biobank, providing relatives’ health data to researchers, or sharing research findings with relatives should be considered when reflecting on ethical aspects of research biobanks. The aim of this paper is to explore what the role of donor’s relatives and friends is in the process of becoming and being a biobank donor and which ethical issues arise in this context. We performed qualitative analysis of 40 qualitative semi-structured interviews with biobank donors and researchers. The results show that relatedness to relatives or other types of close relationships played a significant role in the donors’ motivation to be involved in a biobank, risk-benefit assessment, and decisions on sharing information on research and its results.

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Why is it important?

Interviewees mentioned ethical issues in the context of sharing relatives’ health-related data for research purposes and returning research findings that may affect their relatives. We conclude that the question of what information on family members may be shared with a biobank by research participants without informed consent of those relatives, and when family members become research subjects, lacks a clear answer and detailed guidelines, especially in the context of the introduction of the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation. Researchers in Latvia and EU face ethical questions and dilemmas about returning research results and incidental findings to donors’ relatives, and donors need more information on sharing research results with relatives in the informed consent process.


One of the most important results of this study is the fact that researchers lack guidance to decide what questions about family members may be asked by researchers without informed consent of those relatives.

Dr Signe Mezinska
University of Latvia

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This page is a summary of: Becoming and being a biobank donor: The role of relationships and ethics, PLoS ONE, November 2020, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242828.
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