Understanding genomic data from a legal perspective

How does the law conceive of genomic data? Can one own genomic data? And what about privacy rights in genomic data? To answer these questions, my research group recently published a pioneering article in Frontiers in Genetics. This is the first time that the legal nature of genomic data is analysed from a South African perspective.

You are also welcome to watch a video summary of the article.

Blood is thicker than water, but is it thicker than ink?

Is a sperm donor agreement valid and enforceable in South African law? Can a sperm donor sue for parental rights and responsibilities in respect of a child that was conceived with his sperm, despite the provisions of a sperm donor agreement? And if so, is the sperm donor’s genetic link with the child legally relevant? In this article in the Stellenbosch Law Review, we answer these questions. It turns out that ink trumps blood – not the ink in the sperm donor agreement, but the ink in the law books.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: Is it lawful in South Africa to take your own buccal swab?

Despite the growing popularity of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, there is not a lot of literature on the topic in South Africa. The limited available research suggests that direct-to-consumer genetic testing is unregulated. However, Amy Gooden and I have investigated this topic and found that direct-to-consumer genetic testing is indeed regulated, and unusually so. The first step in the process – the collection of a saliva sample by consumers themselves – is unlawful on a plain reading of the National Health Act 61 of 2003 and the Regulations Relating to the Use of Human Biological Material. But this is only the beginning of our legal analysis, not the end! Read more here.

If fertility patients pass away, what happens to their in vitro embryos?

South African fertility clinics often include a provision in their consent forms that deals with the disposition of reproductive material (gametes and embryos) after a fertility patient’s death. This practice is problematic as such a provision is not legally valid. If the clinic acts in pursuance of such a provision upon a fertility patient’s death, the fertility clinic may be committing a civil wrong and a crime. But what is the solution? Read more in my article in the South African Medical Journal.