Policy ForumEthics

The Bioethics Commission on Incidental Findings

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Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1321-1323
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248764

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Dr. Sarah Hilgenberg believes that participating in a research study saved her life, although she had no reason to believe this when she enrolled. While examining functional magnetic resonance images collected during a memory study, researchers found an arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins in her brain (see the image). Sarah had the mass surgically removed, and she recovered (1). Consider also a hypothetical case in which a routine computerized tomography angiogram turns up no clinically significant stroke warning signs but shows an unrelated nodule in the lung. During biopsy, the lung collapses, which leads to cardiac arrest and permanent anoxic brain injury. The nodule pathology report reveals benign inflammation.