Tales from the Crypt: Scientific, Ethical, and Legal Considerations for Biohistorical Analysis of Deceased Historical Figures
Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law, Vol. 26, pp. 223-299, 2007
77 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2008
Biohistorical analysis involves using historic specimens of human remains or human material extracted or derived from historical artifacts to gather evidence about specimens that are identifiable or at least attributed to a historic figure at the time of the research. Biohistorical studies are being undertaken for myriad reasons, such as identification and authentication of remains, investigation into alleged criminal behavior, investigation into medical or psychological conditions, and even for purposes of commercialization. This article analyzes federal statutes, case law, and codes and guidelines from twenty-six professional organizations and societies informative to the field of biohistory. We surveyed the field, identified deficiencies in oversight and guidance, investigated prior biohistorical studies, and concluded that greater consideration of a variety of scientific, ethical and legal issues is needed. The article uses legal and ethical precedents to propose ways to avert abuses in five key areas we identified as important: (1) promotion of research; (2) access to samples or artifact; (3) scientific integrity and dissemination of results; (4) informed consent and rights of participants; and (5) avoidance of conflicts of interest. Throughout, we identify critical questions, concerns, and considerations for biohistory. We conclude with suggestions for development of guidance in this area.
Keywords: genetics research, biohistory, historical figures
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