Precision Medicine, Data, and the Anthropology of Social Status

American Journal of Bioethics 21 (4):80-83 (2021)
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The success of precision medicine depends on obtaining large amounts of information about at-risk populations. However, getting consent is often difficult. Why? In this commentary I point to the differentials in social status involved. These differentials are inevitable once personal information is surrendered, but are particularly intense when the studied populations are socioeconomically or socioculturally disadvantaged and/or ethnically stigmatized groups. I suggest how the deep distrust of the latter groups can be partially justified as a lack of confidence that their core values or interests will sufficiently be taken into account. Hence, the ethical challenge here lies not in avoiding status differentials, but in dealing with them appropriately. Scientists should not assume trust from others but adopt a norm of “demonstrating trustworthiness”.

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Hugh Desmond
Leibniz Universität Hannover