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Pediatrics. 2019 Dec;144(6). pii: e20191031. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-1031. Epub 2019 Nov 12.

Ethical Issues in Newborn Sequencing Research: The Case Study of BabySeq.

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MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and Departments of Pediatrics, Medicine, and Surgery, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; and
Department of Pediatrics, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.


The BabySeq Project is a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and aimed at exploring the medical, behavioral, and economic impacts of integrating genomic sequencing into the care of both healthy newborns and newborns who are sick. Infants were randomly assigned to receive standard of care or standard of care plus sequencing. The protocol and consent specified that only childhood-onset conditions would be returned. When 1 child was found to carry a BRCA2 mutation despite a negative family history, the research team experienced moral distress about nondisclosure and sought institutional review board permission to disclose. The protocol was then modified to require participants to agree to receive results for adult-onset-only conditions as a precondition to study enrollment. The BabySeq team asserted that their new protocol was in the child's best interest because having one's parents alive and well provides both an individual child benefit and a "family benefit." We begin with a short description of BabySeq and the controversy regarding predictive genetic testing of children for adult-onset conditions. We then examine the ethical problems with (1) the revised BabySeq protocol and (2) the concept of family benefit as a justification for the return of adult-onset-only conditions. We reject family benefit as a moral reason to expand genomic sequencing of children beyond conditions that present in childhood. We also argue that researchers should design their pediatric studies to avoid, when possible, identifying adult-onset-only genetic variants and that parents should not be offered the return of this information if discovered unless relevant for the child's current or imminent health.

[Available on 2020-12-01]

Conflict of interest statement

POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

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