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Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Oct;114(10):1622-5.

Privacy and ethics in pediatric environmental health research-part II: protecting families and communities.

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Center for Ethics Education, Fordham University, Bronx, New York 10458, USA.



In pediatric environmental health research, information about family members is often directly sought or indirectly obtained in the process of identifying child risk factors and helping to tease apart and identify interactions between genetic and environmental factors. However, federal regulations governing human subjects research do not directly address ethical issues associated with protections for family members who are not identified as the primary "research participant." Ethical concerns related to family consent and privacy become paramount as pediatric environmental health research increasingly turns to questions of gene-environment interactions.


In this article I identify issues arising from and potential solutions for the privacy and informed consent challenges of pediatric environmental health research intended to adequately protect the rights and welfare of children, family members, and communities.


I first discuss family members as secondary research participants and then the specific ethical challenges of longitudinal research on late-onset environmental effects and gene-environment interactions. I conclude with a discussion of the confidentiality and social risks of recruitment and data collection of research conducted within small or unique communities, ethnic minority populations, and low-income families.


The responsible conduct of pediatric environmental health research must be conceptualized as a goodness of fit between the specific research context and the unique characteristics of subjects and other family stakeholders.

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