Is There a Duty to Share? Ethics of Sharing Research Data in the Context of Public Health Emergencies

Public Health Ethics 4 (1):4-11 (2011)
Abstract
Making research data readily accessible during a public health emergency can have profound effects on our response capabilities. The moral milieu of this data sharing has not yet been adequately explored. This article explores the foundation and nature of a duty, if any, that researchers have to share data, specifically in the context of public health emergencies. There are three notable reasons that stand in opposition to a duty to share one’s data, relating to: (i) data property and ownership, (ii) just distribution of benefits and burdens and (iii) the contemporary ethos of science. We argue each reason can be successfully met with corresponding rationale in favour of data sharing. Further support for data sharing has been echoed in policies of health agencies, funding bodies and academic institutions; in documents on the ethical conduct of biomedical research; and in discussions on the nature of public health. From this, we ascertain that sharing data is the morally sound default position. This article then highlights the key roles reciprocity and solidarity play in supporting the practice of data sharing. We conclude with recommendations to regard public health research data as a common-pool resource in order to build a framework for stable data sharing management
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