- Open Access
The Informed Consent Process in Genetic Family Studies
Genomics, Society and Policy volume 4, Article number: 11 (2008)
The informed consent process provides protection by ensuring that potential research subjects understand the goals of the research project they are being asked to voluntarily partake in as well as the risks associated with the study. We examined subjects' comprehension and ability to identify issues explicitly raised during the consent process that was conducted as part of their participation in a genetic family study (GFS). We employed cross-sectional design by providing a short, self-administrative questionnaire to 246 participants recruited from families enrolled in the Extended Family Investigation of Nephropathy and Diabetes (EFIND) study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Participants responded to the questionnaire directly after their enrollment in the EFIND study. The questionnaire consisted of multiple-choice questions and focused on the understanding of the purposes, procedures, and risks associated with their participation in the EFIND study. These questions were formulated to reflect basic information presented to subjects through the consent process. Responses to questions were expressed as percentages, placing equal weight on each response. Participants were Mexican-American, 62.3% female and averaged 35.2 ± 12.7 years old (range: 18-76). Our findings showed that the average comprehension score was 58. About 30% of the participants did not know the name of the study, and 70% did not identify all elements related to the study procedures. The most striking finding was the lack of understanding concerning the social risks associated with participation in EFIND. While 35.1% of participants identified all potential physical risks, only 1.3% could identify all of the social risks. Our findings showed that participants comprehension score was significantly associated with their level of education and income. We conclude that using the informed consent process to communicate research social risks to subjects participating in GFS has some limitations. Future research directed at improving risk communications to subjects of low socioeconomic levels participating in genetic research is justified.