The Belgian DNA Debate: An Online Deliberative Platform on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues of Genomics

Mayeur C., Saelaert M., Van Hoof W.


Genomics is increasingly being implemented in the society. To fully realise this implementation, citizens should be consulted about their perspectives on genomics and its associated ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) to enable them to co-create with experts a society-supported framework in genomics.


A Belgian online DNA debate was organised, where 1,127 citizens contributed to its deliberative platform.


Contributors expressed a dual attitude towards the societal use of genomic information throughout 5 main themes.

Firstly, contributors considered DNA to have a significant but nondeterministic impact on identity. The second theme describes how genomic information may guide people’s behaviour but has unfavourable effects such as psychological distress. The third theme covers the tension between a genomics-based responsibility and the rejection of genetic discrimination. The fourth theme depicts how genomic information may be useful for the common good and society at large but how, nevertheless, it should be people’s free choice to use this information. In the fifth theme, contributors expressed both willingness to share their data and caution towards the harm and abuses this may engender. Finally, contributors formulated some recommendations for the responsible implementation of genomics.

Discussion and Conclusion

The attitude of contributors towards the societal use of genomic information and its ELSI aligns with a soft precautionary approach, in which prudence and the weighing of different values should result in protective measures against potential risks and harms. Further societal implementation of genomics should include these values and concerns.