Genomics Gets Personal: Property, Persons, Privacy

Introduction by David Haussler, Director of the UCSC Center for Biomolecular Science & Engineering and the UCSC Cancer Genomics Hub). 


Gail P. Jarvik, M.D., Ph.D., Head, Division of Medical Genetics, The Arno G. Motulsky Endowed Chair in Medicine & Professor of Genome Sciences, University of Washington Medical Center

Robert Cook-Deegan, M.D., Research Professor, Genome Ethics, Law & Policy, Duke University, Director, Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy, Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Author of Gene Wars: Science, Politics and the Human Genome Project

John Wilbanks, Director, Sage Bionetworks, Director, Consent to Research project (CtR), Co-founder of the Access2Research petition
Senior Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Ryan Phelan, Founder, and former CEO, DNA Direct by Medco
Board member, Personal Genome Project, Founder Direct Medical Knowledge, Founding Executive Director of Planetree

Roundtable discussion moderated by Jenny Reardon, Director of the Science & Justice Research Center and Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz.

Tremendous advances in sequencing technologies have transformed genomes into a valuable new source of data about the biology of individuals. While these new data promise a revolution in medical care, more immediately they pose fundamental new ethical, social and legal questions about ownership and control of our bodies and their molecular constituents.

• To what extent are genomes the property of persons, and thus subject to their control?

• To what extent should genomes be shared in pursuit of medical breakthroughs or profit by others?

Please join a panel of experts to explore these questions and offer insights on how we can advance personal genomics within ethical and legal frameworks that respond to these fundamental questions about individual rights, property, and the nature of public goods in a genomic age.

A  special event featuring a panel discussion on the ethical and legal questions around personal genomics, hosted at UCSF Mission Bay Campus
Byers Auditorium at Genentech Hall, 600 16th Street, San Francisco.

"Genomics Gets Personal: Property, Persons, Privacy"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
27 September 2012
Reporter: Martha Kenney
“Genomics Gets Personal: Property, Persons, Privacy” took place at UCSF’s Mission Bay
Campus on September 27th, 2012. Renowned Bioinformatics researcher David Haussler, in his
introduction to the event, explained that in the next phase of genomics research that the hardest
challenges will not be the technological or medical problems but the social issues. He suggested
that interdisciplinary initiatives like the Science & Justice Research Center are necessary to
investigate and address these social issues. Jenny Reardon, the chair of the proceedings,
introduced the topic of personal data by reminding the audience that not long ago there was no
such thing as “personal data.” We did not grow up with the idea of personal data, but in the age
of Facebook our lives are not only mediated by data but our bodies have become new, potentially
valuable, sources of data. The Science & Justice Research Center has been experimenting with
bringing novel groups of interdisciplinary researchers together to address these novel problems.
This event convened a panel of four world-class medical and legal experts from the public and
private sectors around two questions unique to problems that emerge from the rise of “personal

• To what extent are genomes the property of persons and subject to their control?
• To what extent should genomes be shared with others for the purpose of medical
breakthroughs or profit?

Prof. Reardon posed a question to each of the panelists that drew on their unique perspectives on
personal genomics. Through the course of the discussion it became clear that the speakers had
differing opinions on key issues that were based in their personal experience with genomics and
how they were positioned in the field. For example, on the topic of citizens having access to
their own genome sequences for diagnostic purposed, there were critical difference between the
different responses.

Gail Jarvik spoke about her practice of finding actionable genes for clinical intervention through
targeted exome sequencing rather than genome sequencing. This approaches is less expensive
and doesn’t return results for genetic conditions that clinicians are not testing for. The data is not
returned to the patient or their doctor because of the risk of misinterpretation. John Wilbanks,
Director of Sage Bionetworks, however, argued that patients have a right to their data and that
taking the data out of the hands of academics needs to become a more viable alternative.
Consumer health advocated Ryan Phlean said that that the opinion that genetic data is too
dangerous and confusing for public consumption is flawed. When there are good ways to
interpret genomic data accessible online genomic data will be useful to the public. Robert Cook-
Deegan, Professor of Genome Law, Health and Policy at Duke University, agreed that people are
becoming less tolerate to the older model where the doctor acts as an intermediary between
medical tests and the patients, but unmediated access to data for patients is only one of the
competing models doctors have to choose between as genomic sequencing becomes more

Questions of informed consent and patients as research partners also played a prominent role in
the discussions. Robert Cook-Deegan referenced the article, “Glad you asked: Participants'
Opinions of Re-Consent for dbGaP Data Submission” as evidence that patients prefer to be asked
when their data is used for a purpose different than the original study, but once asked they are
positively inclined to share their data. Gail Jarvik, who was one of the co-authors on that article,
cautioned that the patient sample was very homogenous, containing mostly white middle-class
Americans. The question of homogeneity is an important one for both scientific and ethical
questions. John Wilbanks joked that scientists he worked with thought they would “find the
Apple gene” because their sample population was all affluent, white men who are the first to buy
the next iPhone. While Ryan Phlean suggested that this is the demographic of “early adopters”
and will change as the technologies become more ubiquitous, Robert Cook-Deegan cautioned
that we should revisit the connection between genetics and eugenics in this context. Different
groups are and will be experiencing the risks and benefits of these technologies in different ways.
This point was echoed during the open question period by Kate Darling, a graduate student in
Medical Sociology at UCSF, who noted that people are drawn into medical contexts in highly
varied, uneven, and contradictory ways. A prison inmate experiences genomics differently that
someone who pays 23andMe for genomic sequencing. Paying attention to this uneven landscape
of medicalization is key for doing bioethics in an age of personal genomics.

It was clear from the questions and varied responses that the territory of personal genomics is
still very much in formation. Questions of sharing and privacy, consent and re-consent, diversity
and inequality, paternalism vs. partnership vs. personal knowledge, and who should profit from
genomic data are currently at stake and could be addressed in multiple different ways. Forums
such as this event are an important part of building a future for personal genomics that takes into
account the social issues that arise with the new genomic technologies and is informed by
different situated (sometimes contrasting) perspectives.

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