Journal of Medical Ethics
April 2021 – Volume 47 – 4
Blockchain, consent and prosent for medical research (4 May, 2020)
Sebastian Porsdam Mann, Julian Savulescu, Philippe Ravaud, Mehdi Benchoufi
Recent advances in medical and information technologies, the availability of new types of medical data, the requirement of increasing numbers of study participants, as well as difficulties in recruitment and retention, all present serious problems for traditional models of specific and informed consent to medical research. However, these advances also enable novel ways to securely share and analyse data. This paper introduces one of these advances—blockchain technologies—and argues that they can be used to share medical data in a secure and auditable fashion. In addition, some aspects of consent and data collection, as well as data access management and analysis, can be automated using blockchain-based smart contracts. This paper demonstrates how blockchain technologies can be used to further all three of the bioethical principles underlying consent requirements: the autonomy of patients, by giving them much greater control over their data; beneficence, by greatly facilitating medical research efficiency and by reducing biases and opportunities for errors; and justice, by enabling patients with rare or under-researched conditions to pseudonymously aggregate their data for analysis. Finally, we coin and describe the novel concept of prosent, by which we mean the blockchain-enabled ability of all stakeholders in the research process to pseudonymously and proactively consent to data release or exchange under specific conditions, such as trial completion.