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Paediatr Drugs. 2001;3(1):29-41.

The ethics of drug research in children.

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  • 1Department of Human Values and Ethics, College of Medicine, University of Tennessee, Memphis 38163, USA.


The obligation of society to improve the welfare of its members requires the conduct of paediatric drug trials. Nevertheless, research activities must satisfy obligations to individual participants. The obligation to protect the welfare of children requires that nontherapeutic research procedures generally involve no more than minimal risk. It also requires that randomisation occurs only when the relative merits of therapeutic procedures remain unsettled among the relevant community of experts. The duty to respect the developing autonomy of children requires that they be included in decision-making about research participation in a manner consistent with the level of their decision-making capacity. However, when children lack mature decision-making capacities, the duty of parents to protect their welfare may properly constrain their choices. Justice requires that the benefits and burdens of research be distributed in a manner that assures equal opportunity for all children. Vulnerable children should receive special protection against the burdens of nontherapeutic research procedures. The benefits of participating in clinical trials should be available to all children with serious illnesses for which current treatment is unsatisfactory. Justice also requires that initiatives be undertaken to rectify current shortcomings in the scope of paediatric drug research. Striking an appropriate balance between obligations to conduct research and to protect the interests of participants is essential to the moral integrity of paediatric drug research.

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