Handling ethical, legal and social issues in birth cohort studies involving genetic research: responses from studies in six countries.
Genetics, Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Informed Consent or Human Experimentation
Minors / Parental Consent
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AbstractBACKGROUND: Research involving minors has been the subject of much ethical debate. The growing number of longitudinal, pediatric studies that involve genetic research present even more complex challenges to ensure appropriate protection of children and families as research participants. Long-term studies with a genetic component involve collection, retention and use of biological samples and personal information over many years. Cohort studies may be established to study specific conditions (e.g. autism, asthma) or may have a broad aim to research a range of factors that influence the health and development of children. Studies are increasingly intended to serve as research platforms by providing access to data and biological samples to researchers over many years.This study examines how six birth cohort studies in North America and Europe that involve genetic research handle key ethical, legal and social (ELS) issues: recruitment, especially parental authority to include a child in research; initial parental consent and subsequent assent and/or consent from the maturing child; withdrawal; confidentiality and sample/data protection; handling sensitive information; and disclosure of results. METHODS: Semi-structured telephone interviews were carried out in 2008/09 with investigators involved in six birth cohort studies in Canada, Denmark, England, France, the Netherlands and the United States. Interviewees self-identified as being knowledgeable about ELS aspects of the study. Interviews were conducted in English. RESULTS: The studies vary in breadth of initial consent, but none adopt a blanket consent for future use of samples/data. Ethics review of new studies is a common requirement. Studies that follow children past early childhood recognise a need to seek assent/consent as the child matures. All studies limit access to identifiable data and advise participants of the right to withdraw. The clearest differences among studies concern handling of sensitive information and return of results. In all studies, signs of child abuse require reports to authorities, but this disclosure duty is not always stated in consent materials. Studies vary in whether they will return to participants results of routine tests/measures, but none inform participants about findings with unknown clinical significance. CONCLUSIONS: Analysis of how cohort studies in various jurisdictions handle key ELS issues provides informative data for comparison and contrast. Consideration of these and other examples and further scholarly exploration of ELS issues provides insight on how best to address these aspects in ways that respect the well-being of participants, especially children who become research subjects at the start of their lives.
BMC Medical Ethics 2010; 11(1): 4
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Updating Protections for Human Subjects Involved in ResearchMoreno, Jonathan; Caplan, Arthur L.; Wolpe, Paul Root (Project on Informed Consent, Human Research Ethics Group (University of Pennsylvania Health System, Center for Bioethics), 2015-05-05)For decades, all federally funded research involving human subjects has been subject to regulations that require the informed consent of the subject and oversight by the local institution. These regulations last underwent major revision in 1981 and have remained unchanged despite significant changes in the nature of clinical science, the financial sources of research support, and the institutional environment in which clinical research is conducted. In the intervening years, doubt has evolved as to whether the regulations currently in place adequately protect the welfare and rights of research subjects in today's clinical research environment and whether the costs, in terms of time, bureaucracy, and delay, are justified by the level of protection afforded. The Human Research Ethics Group, administered by the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, extensively reviewed the status of existing human subjects protections with the aim of making recommendations to improve and reform the regulations. Here, we present recommendations constituting a consensus of the group members for reform in 3 key areas: protecting subject populations with special needs and vulnerabilities, oversight by institutional review boards, and regulatory policy.