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.

Are You My Data? Symposium

Conference hosted by the Science & Justice Working Group Conference
sponsored by the UCSC Office of Research, and the UCSC Cancer Genomic Hub

With a human genome sequenced and a map of variable sites in that genome created, governments and many other public and private actors now seek to make genomic data relevant to health, medicine and the society. However, to do so they must navigate the conjunction of two different approaches to data. Within the biomedical domain there are important, well-articulated infrastructures and commitments arising out of concerns about individual rights, patient privacy and the doctor-patient relationship that limit access to biomedical data. This stands in stark contrast to the culture of open access forged by those who worked on the Human Genome Project, and that has continued to be a central commitment of ongoing Human Genome research. Thus, architects of the genomic revolution face competing, complex technical and ethical challenges that arise from this meeting of these domains with substantially different ethos. Additionally, the rise of social media has led to a broad and contested discussion about the proper relationship between persons and data and who profits through access to it.

Continue Reading Are You My Data? Symposium

Troy Duster: “Criminal Justice/Genomic Justice?”

The Science and Justice Working Group Presents

A Conversation With: Troy Duster, Professor of Sociology & Director of Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge, New York University and author of Backdoor to Eugenics (Routledge, 2003)

This month, the U.K. government proposed entering into DNA databases those youths deemed “at risk” for being criminals. How can and/or should “we” respond to such proposals? DNA databases have been celebrated for exonerating those unjustly charged with crimes, and for increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, but at what cost? Are DNA databases creating new classes of persons (i.e., proto-criminals)? What are the justice issues raised by these forensic databases, and how do they relate to questions about prisons and justice? Such databases intersect with and alter issues of race, class and gender, issues that already strongly shape the criminal “justice system”; it is not yet clear what we need to know in order to address these topics in science, justice, and law.

Preceding this event, Prof. Duster will present a Sociology Dept. Colloquia: “DNA Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties: The CSI Effect and the Social and Political Implications of the Ever-Expanding DNA Databases" 3:00-4:30 p.m., Interdisciplinary Sciences Building 120

Sponsored by the Science and Justice Working Group and the Sociology Department

Troy Duster, “Criminal Justice/Genomic Justice?”
SJWG Rapporteur Report
23 April 2008
This event began with Reardon recapping Duster’s previous talk about the “CSI effect” and
DNA databanks. She mentioned that there was lots of attention on DNA data when she lived in
the UK last winter. The front page of the “Observer” recently had a headline, “ ‘Put Young
Children in DNA Database,’ Police Urge.” She asked, “How do we respond to this?” In the UK,
there is now biometric scanning/storing of biological information for migration and immigration
policies … In Troy’s earlier talk, he discussed the bias of the data base being 2/3 people of color,
so Jenny raises the question, “Can we put everyone in the database?”

Duster responded that it doesn’t change the operation of race. He noted that there would be a
false sense of universal justice. That is, having everybody is in the database assumes that since
we are all in, we are all equally subject to whatever it means to be in the database. Troy
discussed a case in the late 1980s that took place at University of Virginia. There were about a
dozen white fraternity boys, mostly from privileged backgrounds, who were raided by the police
for what turned out to be a cocaine raid. The community could not believe the police would
target college-attending white boys while real “criminals” are out on the street. Duster contends
that the apparatus of state will always turn primarily to vulnerable populations, which
consequently turn out to be predominantly black and Latino arrests. He stated that if there were
a universal database, such as in Portugal since 2004, there would continue to be arrests in
targeted areas. “Cold hits” are arrested on the streets and not on privileged college campuses.
The important thing to think about is what is the context and specifics of question. That is as
long as we have the apparatus of the state, it’s fool’s gold to have universal database.

Donna Haraway turned discussion toward the question of positive harm. She agreed that racial,
class distributions are fundamental issues, especially in regards to incarceration populations.
However, Donna questions whether the current database harms and whether the universal
database would do positive harm or will it be a money issue? Would it be a waste of distribution?
Haraway questions whether bias is structured in system and whether DNA bias is irrelevant to
system or is it doing harm? Duster responded that there are both exonerations and releasing of
innocent people—it’s always about individual cases.

Discussion turned towards privacy issues and whether it would be possible to protect 4th
Amendment rights through technical solutions. For instance, it may be possible to divide
individuals’ genetic sequences in order segment control of the sequences and allow for
exonerative use without disclosing the entirety of one’s sequence at any one time. Duster
responded that having technical solutions can be misleading and assumes an amount of expertise
and standardization that is typically not available on a large scale in law enforcement. Presently,
local, state, and national law enforcement agencies have widely divergent standards for taking,
storing, and using genetic data on suspects and convicts.

In response to this, discussion moved toward how to change policing practices. Duster responds
to this by suggesting that we change the reward structure within policing and challenge the
funding priorities that favor prisons over schooling. For instance, there are overtime policies in
police departments that encourage extra arrests and the end of shifts, incentivizing officers to
make excess arrests. Similarly, the state often chooses funding law enforcement and prisons over
universities because prisons create jobs for economically depressed communities and these jobs
cannot be outsourced.

Several participants raised questions about how much biometric and genetic infrastructure feeds
into police state and how much of it can actually be used positively to release innocent prisoners.
Duster responds that DNA at best is going to handle 1-2% of all crimes. Out prisons have 2
million people. Maybe 3000 exonerates for 300,000 who are not getting it. Beatriz da Costa
mentioned her experience of being an immigrant to the US and skepticism of being subject to
laser scanning and questioned something along the lines of where that information is going or
how might it be used against her. Duster responded that it seems to depend almost entirely on
who is in control of database. The answer is going to come in context of who is asking the
question and who has got the power.

SJWG member Jake Metcalf raised the question of whether we are giving DNA too much power
and notes there are all sorts of ways of reading the genome and more subtle ways of
understanding DNA. Some the concerns over genetic databases seems to rest on sketchy science
and an incomplete understanding of exactly what types of information get stored and how they
are used. As important as it is to resist the police state, it is important to avoid reifying an overly
powerful understating of DNA because then it is reinforced, when really it should be challenged
empirically and politically. Chelsea argued that the power of DNA in criminal justice will
largely be settled by legal precedent.

Mark Diekhans made the point that there is a privilege to identifying as/with the socio-economic
class that isn’t scared of being targeted as “criminal.” Duster mentioned that there is this pushing
together of “criminals” that started off as just sexual offenders, to then violent, then, felons, then
misdemeanor, to now arrestees – there’s a long continuum that we need to be aware of. Duster
highlights importance of possible, practical solutions. The ACLU says “arrestees, no; felons,
OK…” but at level of arrestees there is potential for mobilizing.

Rebecca [politics student?] then brought up the epistemological assumption of the body. That is,
without too much science how can the body tell the truth? From a political and ethical
standpoint, is the idea of the body property? What are underlying assumptions about the body?
Reardon added, who owns the self? Whose property is it? We’ve moved from ownership of land
to the self…is it white guilt? Who owns a body? Can anybody have property of the self?
Beatrice notes that classification is issue too. We don’t have to have a good science—looking at
donor profiles online; there are spaces for “homosexual tendencies” are being pathologized.

A question was raised whether there is fear of the “criminal gene”? Is there fear that we might
use new or find new categorization by developing a universal database. Duster responded that
crime is socially defined—even murder and rape. Historically, rape could not have happened to
black women by white men or slave owners. Haraway suggested that the politics of DNA storage
need to consider the politics of where samples are taken from? There is an issue of the quality of
science here and assurance regulating and limitations of a set of samples/data. We are not
looking at DNA but more a repeat of sequences. The politics of sampling raises the question of
“who is compared to what?” Donna reminds us that DNA is not one god but is a variety of
practices—the dog genome is useful to investigate—and thus we should not let DNA stand as a
single word.