[Development of bioethics. Analysis of practices in 20 hospital departments]

- Presse Med
Author/s: -de Montgolfier, S. -Moutel, G. -Herve, C.
Journal: Presse Med
Year: 2000
Volume: 29
Issue: 32
Pages: 1752-8

OBJECTIVE: In order to analyze the constitution and management of DNA banks and the limitations on procedures currently used in France, we conducted a study in a sample of French hospital units. A DNA bank was defined as any facility where individual samples of DNA, irrespective of the form, are stored for ongoing or future gene studies. The aim of this work was to focus attention on the need for in-depth thought on the ethical issues involved in storing and using DNA as part of everyday clinical practice and research and to provide elements for a debate on the interest and limitations of the French bioethics laws whose revision is currently being considered. METHODS: A questionnaire was sent to the heads of departments in two university hospitals. Five areas were retained for evaluation: the nature and degree of DNA storage activities, procedures followed for reporting the DNA bank, procedures used to protect confidentiality, information given to patients and procedures used for informed consent, and finally, internal rules governing the bank’s operation. The answers to the questionnaires were analyzed anonymously. RESULTS: Among 20 hospital units collecting DNA samples, 70% also stored other samples (DNA, blood, tissue, cell lines) including a large proportion of tissue samples. These samples were collected for purposes of fundamental research and clinical practice. The number of samples stored was quite variable, ranging from a few dozen samples to more than 40,000. Only 55% of the units had reported the facility to a control body, in compliance with current law. Seventy percent maintained computerized data bases but only 50% used an anonymous code. Seventy-five percent obtained written consent but patients were not always informed of the site of the storage or the transfer of their DNA. In addition, the validity of the consent over time, the duration of storage and the types of studies that could be conducted on the DNA were poorly detailed. Internal rules governing the bank’s activities were not implemented by most of the units (65%). CONCLUSION: The responses to our questionnaire survey show that there is currently a gap between everyday practice and regulatory procedures concerning DNA banks in France. Further analysis of current practices would appear to be necessary so professionals could become more aware of the human and social issues involved with the use of DNA banks. These data on everyday practices should be made available to health care workers, public officials and law makers in order to promote ethical practices that, as has been observed, are not dictated solely by legislation which often lags behind everyday activities. All those involved in the management of DNA banks must be aware of their responsibilities in protecting patients’ rights within the framework of a system based on information, consent, and over-the-board trustworthiness regularly submitted to short and long term assessments. A correct response to ethical issues is the only means of developing a real process of social interaction which cannot be achieved by revision of the bioethics laws alone.

URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11098269