Health data research on sudden cardiac arrest: perspectives of survivors and their next-of-kin

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-15 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundConsent for data research in acute and critical care is complex as patients become at least temporarily incapacitated or die. Existing guidelines and regulations in the European Union are of limited help and there is a lack of literature about the use of data from this vulnerable group. To aid the creation of a patient-centred framework for responsible data research in the acute setting, we explored views of patients and next-of-kin about the collection, storage, sharing and use of genetic and health-related data for observational research.MethodsWe conducted qualitative interviews with Dutch sudden cardiac arrest survivors who donated clinical and socio-economic data and genetic samples to research. We also interviewed their next-of-kin. Topics were informed by ethics literature and we used scenario-sketches to aid discussion of complex issues.ResultsSudden cardiac arrest survivors displayed limited awareness of their involvement in health data research and of the content of their given consent. We found that preferences regarding disclosure of clinically actionable genetic findings could change over time. When data collection and use were limited to the medical realm, patients trusted researchers to handle data responsibly without concern for privacy or other risks. There was no consensus as to whether deferred consent should be explicitly asked from survivors. If consent is asked, this would ideally be done a few months after the event when cognitive capacities have been regained. Views were divided about the need to obtain proxy consent for research with deceased patients’ data. However, there was general support for the disclosure of potentially relevant post-mortem genetic findings to relatives.ConclusionsSudden cardiac arrest patients’ donation of data for research was grounded in trust in medicine overall, blurring the boundary between research and care. Our findings also highlight questions about the acceptability of a one-time consent and about responsibilities of patients, researchers and ethics committees. Finally, further normative investigation is needed regarding the use of participants’ data after death, which is of particular importance in this setting. Our findings are thought to be of relevance for other acute and life-threatening illnesses as well.

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