A qualitative study of participants' views on re-consent in a longitudinal biobank

Dixon-Woods, Mary and Kocman, David and Brewster, Liz and Willars, Janet and Laurie, Graeme and Tarrant, Carolyn (2017) A qualitative study of participants' views on re-consent in a longitudinal biobank. BMC Medical Ethics, 18 (1). ISSN 1472-6939

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BACKGROUND: Biomedical research increasingly relies on long-term studies involving use and re-use of biological samples and data stored in large repositories or "biobanks" over lengthy periods, often raising questions about whether and when a re-consenting process should be activated. We sought to investigate the views on re-consent of participants in a longitudinal biobank. METHODS: We conducted a qualitative study involving interviews with 24 people who were participating in a longitudinal biobank. Their views were elicited using a semi-structured interview schedule and scenarios based on a hypothetical biobank. Data analysis was based on the constant comparative method. RESULTS: What participants identified as requiring new consent was not a straightforward matter predictable by algorithms about the scope of the consent, but instead was contingent. They assessed whether proposed new research implied a fundamental alteration in the underlying character of the biobank and whether specific projects were within the scope of the original consent. What mattered most to them was that the cooperative bargain into which they had entered was maintained in good faith. They saw re-consent as one important safeguard in this bargain. In determining what required re-consent, they deployed two logics. First, they used a logic of boundaries, where they sought to detect any possible rupture with their existing framework of cooperation. Second, they used a logic of risk, where they assessed proposed research for any potential threats for them personally or the research endeavour. When they judged that a need for re-consent had been activated, participants saw the process as way of re-actualising and renewing the cooperative bargain. CONCLUSIONS: Participants' perceptions of research as a process of mutual co-operation between volunteer and researcher were fundamental to their views on consent. Consenting arrangements for biobanks should respect the cooperative values that are important to participants, recognise the two logics used by research volunteers, and avoid rigidity. Agility may be favoured by tiered consent combined with strong oversight mechanisms; this approach requires evaluation.

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Journal Article
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BMC Medical Ethics
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26 Apr 2017 15:34
Last Modified:
19 Apr 2022 02:00