Partnership and biobank governance.
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The forward march of biobanking creates the need for an alternative approach to biobank governance. Biobanking encourages medical advancement by making the conduct of health-related research more efficient, by minimising physical harms to participants, and by facilitating personalised medicine and greater understandings of disease. Nonetheless, its characteristics that distinguish it from general health-related research often give rise to many ethical and social issues. For example, multiple and unexpected uses of biobank resources can render conventional informed consent inadequate for safeguarding participants and maintaining public trust and confidence. Also, because the size of a biobank cohort is normally large, biobanking usually requires considerable management resources and this can mean that biobanks can likely be financially dependent upon for-profit entities. This dependency can cause concern among participants and publics about commercial exploitation. These issues suggest that a new approach to biobank governance is required to address them. Indeed, their complexity and the sheer longevity of biobanking itself also suggest that it is relatively feasible and coherent to address them by focusing on a relationship between participants and biobankers. This involves many aspects of interaction and reflects an element of continuity, which is crucial to biobanking success, as opposed to one-off measures. Consequently, with the aim of addressing issues that arise from biobanking, this thesis offers an analysis of the participant-biobanker relationship that can deal with these issues. Such a relationship constitutes an authentic research relationship in biobanking (“ARR”). Based on this premise, the main research question of my thesis is to ask: What form of research relationship is appropriate for effective and ethical biobanking practices? Three sub-questions are raised to solve this top-level research question. They start with a normative question of why the ARR proposed in this thesis is desirable for biobanking. The next sub-question asks what this ARR should look like from a conceptual perspective. For a practical respect on my proposals, the last sub-question concerns the ways in which the ARR can be fostered in practice. To address these research questions, my thesis first establishes the main characteristics of the proposed ARR as the fundamental notion thereof. These main characteristics are used to answer the first sub-question. For the second sub-question, the thesis suggests that the ARR should be based on the concept of partnership, as opposed to solidarity, mainly because partnership can exhibit the main characteristics of the ARR – as argued – and can also be prescribed in a governance manner. The thesis then uses partnership as a basis for proposing the key features of the ARR, which are deemed to be a conceptual framework for the ARR. To answer the last sub-question, the thesis uses this conceptual framework to propose a partnership model for biobank governance that can be used to develop the ARR in practice. My original contribution is to propose a novel approach to an ARR, and this ARR is based on the concept of partnership. In other words, my thesis argues that the pursuit of the ARR, which looks like a partnership relationship, is an important element of biobanking success. In this respect, my thesis is about a sociologically informed role for partnership in biobank governance. It also provides a nuanced epistemological grounding for a participant-biobanker relationship in both conceptual and practical ways. From a philosophical perspective, my thesis proposes an ethical framework for biobank governance that perceives partnership as a virtuous trait for biobankers and provides rules for acquiring this trait through biobanking practices. Notably, it is argued that this partnership is not – nor need it be – the legal paradigm of partnership, which fundamentally refers to for-profit business association. While law might have a role to play in facilitating the development of the ARR, it cannot prescribe the ARR nor should it attempt to do so.