Defining ourselves: Personal bioinformation as a tool of narrative self-conception

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Where ethical or regulatory questions arise about an individual’s interests in accessing bioinformation about herself (such as findings from screening or health research), the value of this information has traditionally been construed in terms of its clinical utility. It is increasingly argued, however, that the “personal utility” of findings should also be taken into account. This article characterizes one particular aspect of personal utility: that derived from the role of personal bioinformation in identity construction. The suggestion that some kinds of information are relevant to identity is not in itself new. However, the account outlined here seeks to advance the debate by proposing a conception of the relationship between bioinformation and identity that does not depend on essentialist assumptions and applies beyond the narrow genetic contexts in which identity is customarily invoked. The proposal is that the identity-value of personal bioinformation may be understood in terms of its instrumental role in the construction of our narrative identities, specifically that its value lies in helping us to develop self-narratives that support us in navigating our embodied existences. I argue that this narrative conception provides useful insights that are pertinent to the ethical governance of personal bioinformation. It illuminates a wider range of ethical considerations in relation to information access; it accounts for variations in the utility of different kinds of information; and it highlights that the context in which information is conveyed can be as important as whether it is disclosed at all. These arguments are illustrated using an example drawn from psychiatric neuroimaging research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-151
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • identity construction
  • right to know
  • neuroimaging research
  • self concepts
  • narrative identity
  • access to information
  • biodata
  • genetic origins
  • personal utility
  • psychiatric neuroimaging


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