Bioethics Program

As advances in genomic research are translated into new diagnostic tools and clinical interventions, it is critical Mayo Clinic scientists and clinicians examine the ethical and societal questions raised by these developments; and continue to place the best interests of the patient at the center of these medical innovations.

For example:

  • Incidental findings. What if you're participating in a genomic research study and a researcher unexpectedly discovers information that might affect your health? Should the researcher share this information with you or your doctor? If so, how and when?
  • Privacy and confidentiality. Who should have access to your genomic information and what types of safeguards may be needed?
  • Right to know. Should parents have the right to learn about genetic risks for adult-onset diseases that their children may have? Should tests for adult-onset conditions be added to existing newborn screening programs?
  • Fair distribution of medical benefits. Given the high costs of genomic sequencing, how can we ensure that these new technologies are available in a just and fair manner?

These are just a few of the ethics and societal issues raised by genomics. Clinicians and scientists in the Biomedical Ethics Program work to develop ethically robust strategies for integrating genomic technologies into medicine, with a focus on the best interests of the patient.

Areas of focus

  • Providing ethics consultation and education. Our faculty and staff support clinicians who are adopting new forms of individualized medicine; and seeking advice on the management of ethical, legal and social challenges. We also engage scientists, physicians and other health care professionals who are helping to develop these new treatment options. We work collaboratively with Mayo Clinic experts to develop innovative educational strategies to increase the clinician’s ability to counsel patients about ethical and social issues associated with new forms of individualized medicine.
  • Placing the needs of patients at the center of medical innovation. Researchers in the Bioethics Program conduct projects to characterize patients’ needs in relation to genomic technologies, including potential motivations for pursuing genomic testing, concerns about the use of genetic findings, and potential barriers to pursuing clinically appropriate forms of individualized medicine.
  • Engaging the larger community. The Bioethics Program coordinates community engagement activities for CIM, including the Mayo Clinic Biobank Community Advisory Board (CAB), a group of approximately 20 members that reflect the growing diversity of the SE Minnesota community. Established in 2009, the CAB is a valuable resource that represents the voice of the community.
  • Providing national leadership on ethical issues in genomic medicine. The Bioethics Program is positioning Mayo Clinic as a leader in establishing ethical and socially responsible approaches to the delivery of cutting-edge novel individualized approaches to patient care. Bioethics Program faculty participate in national and regional policy initiatives to promote the responsible use of new forms of individualized medicine.

Program Leader

Richard R. Sharp, Ph.D. Director