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Accessing medical biobanks to solve crimes: ethical considerations
  1. Nina F de Groot1,
  2. Britta C van Beers2,
  3. Lieven Decock1,
  4. Gerben Meynen1,3
  1. 1 Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Department of Legal Theory and Legal History, Faculty of Law, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3 Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Nina F de Groot, Department of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;{at}


Millions of human biological samples are stored worldwide for medical research or treatment purposes. These biospecimens are of enormous potential value to law enforcement as DNA profiles can be obtained from these samples. However, forensic use of such biospecimens raises a number of ethical questions. This article aims to explore ethical issues of using human bodily material in medical biobanks for crime investigation and prosecution purposes. Concerns about confidentiality, trust, autonomy and justice will be discussed. We explore how to balance these concerns against the importance of crime solving. Relevant case examples of forensic use of medical biobanks show that requests by law enforcement to access biobanks are handled in disparate ways. We identify some core ethical issues and conclude that further research on these issues is needed to provide ethical guidance.

  • ethics
  • confidentiality/privacy
  • informed consent
  • genetic information

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  • Contributors NdG is the main author of the article. All authors contributed to drafting the initial manuscript and commented on next versions of the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), Programme PhDs in the Humanities, project number PGW.19.014

  • Competing interests None declared.

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