22 Nov, 13 | by Iain Brassington
A couple of weeks ago, the D–ly M–l** asked me to comment on the Personal Genome Project‘s call for 100 000 volunteers who’d be willing to have their DNA sequenced so that it could be correlated with their health records and used as a tool for research. As it happens, my peals of wisdom never made it into print, but here’s an expanded version of the things I said.
First up, this project is superficially similar to that undertaken by the UK Biobank. The idea behind both is that, since many illnesses have a genetic component to them, understanding those illnesses fully will require doing genetic research. Sometimes that will be on cells in a lab; sometimes it’ll be population surveys. Often, the idea will be to learn as much as we can about individuals’ genomes, and then to keep track of their health over a prolonged period. If, across the population, we notice a correlation between a given gene and a given illness, the hope would be that we could work out more effective treatments. Insofar as participating in this project might help with research into things like cancer, it’s tempting to think that it’s admirable – some even argue that participation in medical research is a moral duty (though others disagree: to and fro and to and fro***; cf this and this and this).
However, there are also moral problems to consider. more…