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18 K.L.J. 209 (2007)
Biobanks and Blanket Consent: The Proper Place of the Public Good and Public Perception Rationales

handle is hein.journals/kingsclj18 and id is 209 raw text is: (2007) 18 KLJ 209-226

Biobanks and Blanket Consent:
The Proper Place of the Public Good
and Public Perception Rationales
Timothy Caulfield*
Population genetic databases ('biobanks') raise tricky dilemmas with regard to the issue of
consent. This paper addresses the question of whether moving away from traditional, informed
consent to a 'blanket consent' regime for participation in large-scale biobanks is legally and
ethically justifiable. First, it describes the biobanking context and the emerging dilemmas
concerning consent. Then, it identifies and critically analyses two of the most common
rationales for modifying consent norms in the biobanking context that feature within the
international biomedical and policy-making debates and literature. They are: (1) the alleged
need to balance the public good of biobanks and research against individual interests by
moving away from costly and inconvenient traditional informed consent standards; and (2)
the claim that public opinion research demonstrates public support for, or at least public
acceptance of, blanket consent. The paper argues that neither rationale in fact offers sufficient
justification for adopting a blanket consent policy. Too often, the rationales are put forward
without proper reflection on, or appreciation of, the core legal and ethical principles that
underlie existing norms, especially autonomy.
Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, Professor, Faculty of Law and School of Public Health,
Research Director, Health Law Institute, University of Alberta. I would like to thank Nola Ries, Lori
Sheremeta and Jane Kaye (and her Oxford colleagues) for their insight. I thank Sue Gibbons in particular
for her excellent editorial skills. I would also like to thank Genome Alberta and AllerGen for funding support.
Portions of this paper build on work in Timothy Caulfield,'Revisiting Core Principles: Autonomy, Consent
and the Biobanking Challenge' in Jocelyn Downie and Elaine Gibson (eds), Health Law at the Supreme Court
(Irwin Law Inc, Toronto (forthcoming)); and Timothy Caulfield and Nola Ries, 'Public Opinion, Consent
and Population Genetic Biobanks' in Bartha Maria Knoppers (ed), Genomics and Public Health: Legal and
Socio-Ethical Perspectives (Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden 2007).

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