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Eur J Hum Genet. 2014 Feb;22(2):266-9. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2013.119. Epub 2013 Jun 12.

Clarifying assent in pediatric research.

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Department of Medical Humanities, Julius Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Assent is a relatively young term in research ethics, but became an often mentioned ethical requirement in current pediatric research guidelines. Also, the European Society of Human Genetics considers assent an important condition for the inclusion of children in biobanks. However, although many emphasize the importance of assent, few explain how they understand the concept and few have elaborated on the underlying grounds. In this paper, we will discuss the different underlying ethical principles of assent. In the first category, assent appears to be derived from informed consent. This understanding is grounded in respect for autonomy and protection against harm. We conclude that this interpretation of assent is not of added value as a majority of children cannot be considered competent to make autonomous decisions. In addition, other safeguards are more appropriate to protect children against harm. The grounds from the second category can be classified as engagement grounds. These grounds do justice to the specifics of childhood and are of added value. Furthermore, we argue that it follows that both the content and the process of assent should be adjusted to the individual child. This can be referred to as personalized assent. Personalized assent is an appeal to the moral responsibility and integrity of the researcher.

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