The devil is in the details: an analysis of patient rights in Swiss cancer registries.
Cancer registries are an important part of the public health infrastructure, since they allow to monitor the temporal trends of this illness as well as facilitate epidemiological research. In order to effectively set up such registries, it is necessary to create a system of data collection that permits to record health-related information from patients who are diagnosed with cancer. Given the sensitive nature of such data, it is debated whether their recording should be based on consent or whether alternative arrangements are possible (eg, opt-out systems where information is automatically collected but patients can later withdraw). In the recent reform of the Swiss cancer registration legislation, the lawmaker set out to implement rules about the recording of data in cancer registries that would allegedly go beyond a consent-based model, in order to balance accurate registration with respect of patient rights. However, by analysing the operational norms of the new legislation and comparing them with those of other systems, it emerges that the Swiss rules de facto closely resemble a system of registration based on informed consent-in partial contradiction with the objective pursued by the lawmaker. In this paper, we show how the details of a policy are crucial to determine its true nature and we highlight some critical elements-from an ethical standpoint-of the recently reformed Swiss policy on cancer registration.