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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Apathy over Anonymity

Nabilah Deen

Satomi works in a research facility that provides statistical results for the bioengineering firm TechCureCase. She is one of four interns expected to go through hundreds of samples per day. At her first week on the job, her supervisor informs her that all blood samples are to be completely anonymous. No testing can be done if personal information is revealed—meaning, the samples must be properly disposed of if opened, or returned to the physicians if unopened to be re-anonymized.

For the first five weeks, most of the new interns follow procedures to check that samples were anonymized before testing occurred. However, one of the interns, Max, failed to verify whether the samples were anonymized. Halfway through the testing, Satomi discovers the non-anonymized samples. She considers whether they should tell their supervisor, but the other interns ask her not to speak up so that they won’t get in trouble. One of the interns argues that as long as they remove the information from the non-anonymized samples, the batch would otherwise be fine. Max is hesitant to go to their supervisor as it is his fault, but Satomi can see that neither does he like the idea the other interns are suggesting.

What should Satomi do?

Nabilah Deen was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015