Recent advances in mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics have vastly increased the quality and scope of biological information that can be derived from human samples. These advances have rendered current workflows increasingly applicable in biomedical and clinical contexts. As proteomics is poised to take an important role in the clinic, associated ethical responsibilities increase in tandem with impacts on the health, privacy, and wellbeing of individuals. We conducted and here report a systematic literature review of ethical issues in clinical proteomics. We add our perspectives from a background of bioethics, the results of our accompanying paper extracting individual-sensitive results from patient samples, and the literature addressing similar issues in genomics. The spectrum of potential issues ranges from patient re-identification to incidental findings of clinical significance. The latter can be divided into actionable and unactionable findings. Some of these have the potential to be employed in discriminatory or privacy-infringing ways. However, incidental findings may also have great positive potential. A plasma proteome profile, for instance, could inform on the general health or disease status of an individual regardless of the narrow diagnostic question that prompted it. We suggest that early discussion of ethical issues in clinical proteomics can ensure that eventual healthcare practices and regulations reflect the considered judgment of the community and anticipate opportunities and problems that may arise as the technology matures.
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