Mind of the Universe – Genetic Privacy: should we be concerned?


Should all our genetic information be made public in order to eradicate genetic diseases from this world?

Who owns your genetic data once it becomes publicly accessible? What is your responsibility to family members when you know more about genetic diseases than they do? Who decides what kind of genetic information is relevant to a person? And what does genetic privacy mean to you?
In this challenge with Robert Zwijnenberg (Professor in Art and Science Interactions) you will critically reflect upon the issue of genetic privacy. You will dive into the ethical questions that come up with the disclosure of genetic data in biobanks and through genetic tests. This course encourages you to think about the cultural, philosophical and political tensions present in the debate around genetic privacy. You are invited to identify and listen to the viewpoints and values provided by the different stakeholders that shape this debate: corporations, researchers, consumers and patients. Furthermore, you will go off the beaten track by exploring the issue from the unique perspective of art and culture. After a lot of thinking, supplementing, deleting and adjusting, you will be asked to share a recommendation on how to regulate practices of disclosing genetic information, while taking into consideration the concept of genetic privacy. Your advice could serve as an eye-opener for policy makers!
This online learning experience is a spin-off of The Mind of the Universe documentary series created by the Dutch broadcasting company VPRO and professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, Princeton University. A number of universities in the Netherlands have used the open source material of the documentary series as a starting point to create similar experiences.

What you will learn

What is on Your Mind?

In this module, we will introduce the subject of genetic privacy. In a time in which more and more genetic material and information is being stored in biobanks, research labs and private companies, the urgency to consider the concept of ‘genetic privacy’ becomes all the more pronounced. We will discuss different practices dedicated to the disclosure and application of genetic data, and we ask you to reflect on your initial stance towards these practices.

Open up Your Mind

This part of the course will stimulate you to reflect critically on the different types of practices that work with genetic data, among which the Personal Genome Project initiated by George Church. You will get familiar with the ethical questions that these practices could raise. Furthermore, you will be encouraged to think about what the concept of genetic privacy means to you personally. What actually is genetic privacy? And what are the borders of its definition? How can we define the border between individual autonomy and public interest? Where do you place this border yourself?

Connect your mind

This week we will enrich the ethical debate around genetic privacy by viewing the subject from the perspective of art and culture. We will see how artworks and cultural objects can foreground the ambiguities, emotions and (cultural) assumptions often neglected in mainstream debates around biotechnological developments. Moreover, we will explore the potential of art to allow new publics to arise in the discourse around genetic research. In this module, we would like to make you aware of how your own emotions and expectations might influence your stance on the subject. From there on, you can get to a more nuanced point of view towards the issue of genetic privacy.

Make up your mind

Different groups of people with sometimes opposing interests take part in the public debate around the disclosure and application of genetic data. For example, patients, consumers, researchers, corporations, or politicians. These groups, or stakeholders, bring forward diverse arguments to advocate their position. Their arguments are often formed by emotions, gut feelings and cultural values. In order to regulate the disclosure of genetic data, while taking into consideration the notion of genetic privacy, we have to identify the different stakeholders and their values present in this debate.

What’s included