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The biobank consent debate: Why ‘meta-consent’ is not the solution?
  1. Neil C Manson
  1. Correspondence to Dr Neil C Manson, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YL, UK; n.manson{at}


Over the past couple of decades, there has been an ongoing, often fierce, debate about the ethics of biobank participation. One central element of that debate has concerned the nature of informed consent, must specific reconsent be gained for each new use, or user, or is broad consent ethically adequate? Recently, Thomas Ploug and Søren Holm have developed an alternative to both specific and broad consent: what they call a meta-consent framework. On a meta-consent framework, participants can choose the type of consent framework they require, for different kinds of use, different types of user and so on. Meta-consent involves a distinctive kind of design of the consent process. Here it is argued, first, that although a meta-consent framework does not wrong participants, Ploug and Holm understate the likely costs and burdens of such a framework, so there are good practical reasons not to offer it. Second, although Ploug and Holm allude to some ethical considerations that might seem to ground an ethical argument for providing meta-consent, they do not offer any sound argument, and it does not wrong participants in any way to fail to offer them the opportunity to design their own consent process.

  • research ethics
  • informed consent

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  • Contributors I am sole author.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Presented at Versions of this paper were presented at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Science, and at the Center for Ethics, University of Zurich.