Impact of Cognitive Load on Family Decision Makersí Recall and Understanding of

Donation Requests for the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project


Laura A. Siminoff, Maureen Wilson-Genderson, Maghboeba Mosavel, Laura Barker, Jennifer Trgina, Heather M. Traino, Howard M. Nathan, Richard D. Hasz, and Gary Walters, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 29, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 20-30.


Genomic research projects that collect tissues from deceased organ and tissue donors must obtain the authorization of family decision makers under difficult circumstances that may affect the authorization process. Using a quasi-experimental design, the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) substudy of the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project compared the recall and understanding of the donation authorization process of two groups: family members who had authorized donation of tissues to the GTEx project (the comparison group) and family members who had authorized organ and tissue donations in years previous, who subsequently participated in two different mock-authorization processes that mimicked the GTEx authorization process (the intervention groups). Participants in the comparison and intervention groups were matched on key demographic characteristics.

      We found that participants in the intervention groups who experienced a mock-authorization process demonstrated better recall of the tissue donation request than members of the comparison group. Our data indicate that the stress associated with the loss of a loved one limited the ability of family members to recall details about the GTEx project. However, we found a similar lack of knowledge in both the comparison and the intervention group participants, suggesting lack of knowledge may be due to the complexity and unfamiliarity of the information presented to them during the authorization process. We discuss these findings in the context of everyday clinical decision making in cognitively challenging conditions.



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