So, who has the rights to the DNA? Researcher or donor?
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Interesting piece on DNA, research and legal rights on the front page of the New York Times this morning. Well, it was there for us old-fashioned readers. You new-fangled folks can find it here.
Members of the Havasupai tribe, who live deep in the Grand Canyon, have been fighting with researchers from Arizonsa State University over the use of DNA from blood samples tribe members provided years ago so researchers could try to divine why the tribe members suffered from diabetes at an unusually high rate.
But the researchers used the samples to do experiments in other directions, much to the annoyance of the DNA suppliers. Legal tussles ensued, and now the state has agreed to pay the tribe members $700,000 and return the unused samples, a settlement that, as the Times noted, suggests the university implicitly acknowledged that it messed up by using the samples in a manner that was not included under the initial permission granted by the tribe members (the researcher involved argued that the wider permission had been granted).
The case touches on deeper issues, though. Do individuals have the right to limit the research uses of something such as a blood sample, once it is turned over? Or do the imperatives of unemcumbered research take precedence?
Expect this one to be argued over for years to come.