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Bridging Philosophical and Practical Implications of Incidental Findings in Brain Research

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Empirical studies and ethical-legal analyses have demonstrated that incidental fndings in the brain, most commonly vascular in origin, must be addressed in the current era of imaging research. The challenges, however, are substantial. The discovery and management of incidental fndings vary, at minimum, by institutional setting, professional background of investigators, and the inherent diferences between research and clinical protocols. In the context of human subjects protections, the challenges of disclosure of unexpected and potentially meaningful clinical information concern privacy and confdentiality, communication, and responsibility for follow-up. Risks, including a blurring of boundaries between research and clinical practice, must be weighed against the possible beneft to subjects and a moral duty to inform. Identifcation and examination of these challenges have been met by scientifc interest and a robust, interdisciplinary response resulting in the pragmatic recommendations discussed here.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: The Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics and a Professor of Neurology at the University of British Columbia. 2: The Program Manager for Neuroethics at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. Hoping to eventually specialize in neurology, she is currently a first-year medical student at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, NJ.

Publication date: June 1, 2008


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