This article considers some of the ethical and legal issues relating to the ownership and use – including for commercial purposes – of biological material and products derived from humans. The discussion is divided into three parts: after first examining the general notion of ownership, it moves to the particular case of possible commercial use, and finally reflects on the case in point in the light of the preceding considerations. Units of cord blood donated altruistically for transplantation and which are found unsuitable for storage and transplantation, or which become unsuitable while stored in biobanks, are taken as an example. These cord-blood units can be discarded together with other biological waste, or they can be used for research or the development of blood-derived products such as platelet gel. Several ethical questions (eg, informed consent, property, distribution of profits, and others) arise from these circumstances. In this regard, some criteria and limits to use are proposed.
bioethics; biological specimen banks; cord-blood stem cell transplantation; ethics; informed consent; legislation
Understanding the perception of patients on research ethics issues related to biobanking is important to enrich ethical discourse and help inform policy.
We examined the views of leukemia patients undergoing treatment in clinics located in the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. An initial written survey was provided to 100 patients (64.1% response rate) followed by a follow-up survey (62.5% response rate) covering the topics of informed consent, withdrawal, anonymity, incidental findings and the return of results, ownership, and trust.
The majority (59.6%) preferred one-time consent, 30.3% desired a tiered consent approach that provides multiple options, and 10.1% preferred re-consent for future research. When asked different questions on re-consent, most (58%) reported that re-consent was a waste of time and money, but 51.7% indicated they would feel respected and involved if asked to re-consent. The majority of patients (62.2%) stated they had a right to withdraw their consent, but many changed their mind in the follow-up survey explaining that they should not have the right to withdraw consent. Nearly all of the patients (98%) desired being informed of incidental health findings and explained that the information was useful. Of these, 67.3% of patients preferred that researchers inform them and their doctors of the results. The majority of patients (62.2%) stated that the research institution owns the samples whereas 19.4% stated that the participants owned their samples. Patients had a great deal of trust in doctors, hospitals and government-funded university researchers, moderate levels of trust for provincial governments and industry-funded university researchers, and low levels of trust towards industry and insurance companies.
Many cancer patients surveyed preferred a one-time consent although others desired some form of control. The majority of participants wanted a continuing right to withdraw consent and nearly all wanted to be informed of incidental findings related to their health. Patients had a great deal of trust in their medical professionals and publically-funded researchers as opposed to profit-based industries and insurance companies.
Biobank; Tissue repository; Cancer patient perspectives; Consent; Withdrawal; Anonymity; Incidental findings; Return of results; Ownership; Trust
Background to the debate: Umbilical cord blood—the blood that remains in the placenta after birth—can be collected and stored frozen for years. A well-accepted use of cord blood is as an alternative to bone marrow as a source of hematopoietic stem cells for allogeneic transplantation to siblings or to unrelated recipients; women can donate cord blood for unrelated recipients to public banks. However, private banks are now open that offer expectant parents the option to pay a fee for the chance to store cord blood for possible future use by that same child (autologous transplantation.)
Private banks offer expectant parents the option to pay a fee for the chance to store cord blood for possible future use by the child. The practice is controversial, for scientific and ethical reasons
Biobanks include biological samples and attached databases. Human biobanks occur in research, technological development and medical activities. Population genomics
is highly dependent on the availability of large biobanks. Ethical issues must be
considered: protecting the rights of those people whose samples or data are in
biobanks (information, autonomy, confidentiality, protection of private life), assuring
the non-commercial use of human body elements and the optimal use of samples
and data. They balance other issues, such as protecting the rights of researchers
and companies, allowing long-term use of biobanks while detailed information on
future uses is not available. At the level of populations, the traditional form of
informed consent is challenged. Other dimensions relate to the rights of a group
as such, in addition to individual rights. Conditions of return of results and/or
benefit to a population need to be defined. With ‘large-scale biobanking’ a marked
trend in genomics, new societal dimensions appear, regarding communication, debate,
regulation, societal control and valorization of such large biobanks. Exploring how
genomics can help health sector biobanks to become more rationally constituted
and exploited is an interesting perspective. For example, evaluating how genomic
approaches can help in optimizing haematopoietic stem cell donor registries using
new markers and high-throughput techniques to increase immunogenetic variability
in such registries is a challenge currently being addressed. Ethical issues in such
contexts are important, as not only individual decisions or projects are concerned,
but also national policies in the international arena and organization of democratic
debate about science, medicine and society.
The King's College London (KCL) Infectious Diseases BioBank opened in 2007 and collects peripheral venous blood (PVB) from individuals infected with pathogens including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). PVBs are fractionated into plasmas, lymphocytes and DNA and are then frozen. All donations are from subjects who have given 'open consent' so samples can be used for virtually any type of biomedical research. The HIV component of the BioBank contains samples from over 400 donations from 138 HIV+ patients. Thus, the KCL Infectious Diseases BioBank - together with establishments such as the Spanish HIV BioBank - is likely to expedite translational research into this infection.
Although much has been published for the development of cell lines, these were lab based and developed for scientific technical staff.
Objective of review
We discuss the ethical implications of tissue retention and present a generic consent form (Part II). We also present a simple and successful protocol for the development of cell lines and tissue harvesting for the clinical scientist (Part I).
Consent is also more proximate and assurance can be given of appropriate usage. Ethical questions concerning tissue ownership are in many institutions raised during the current consenting procedure. We provide a robust ethical framework, based on the current legislation, which allows clinicians to be directly involved in cell and tissue harvesting.
This paper explores the perspectives of women who have agreed that their umbilical cord blood may be collected for a public ‘cord blood bank’, for use in transplant medicine or research. Drawing on interview data from 27 mothers who agreed to the collection and use of their umbilical cord blood, these choices and the informed consent process are explored. It is shown that the needs of sick children requiring transplants are prominent in narrative accounts of cord blood banking, together with high expectations for future applications of stem cells. Given this dynamic, a concern arises that the complex and multiple uses of tissues and related data might be oversimplified in the consent process. In conclusion, the positive finding of a commitment to mutuality in cord blood banking among these women is underlined, and its implications for the wider debate on cord blood banking are discussed.
Since the first successful transplantation of umbilical cord blood in 1988, cord blood has become an important source of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells for the treatment of blood and genetic disorders. Significant progress has been accompanied by challenges for scientists, ethicists, and health policy makers. With the recent recognition of the need for a national system for the collection, banking, distribution, and use of cord blood and the increasing focus on cord blood as an alternative to embryos as a source of tissue for regenerative medicine, cord blood has garnered significant attention. We review the development of cord blood banking and transplantation and then discuss the scientific and ethical issues influencing both established and investigational practices surrounding cord blood collection, banking, and use.
The dynamic development of biobanks causes some ethical, social, and legal problems. The most discussed problems are obtaining informed consent, especially for future research, from minors and from deceased people. The aim of this article is to present the current standards held by Polish biobanks concerning obtaining a participant's informed consent in some aspects.
Material and methods
Survey was carried out by anonymous questionnaire among 59 institutions which deal with the collecting and storage of human cells and tissues in the year 2008. Twenty four filled-in copies of the questionnaires were sent back (return=41%).
Almost every institution (92%) obtains written consent, but a third of the surveyed institutions (29%) do not obtain consent for the future use of the samples. The majority of the respondents (83%) support the idea of using biological materials for research purposes of a donor who died if he did not leave any written objection to such practices and 46% of respondents stated that biobanks should obtain the consent from the already mature donor who gave their samples as a child.
The practice and rules for obtaining informed consent for the scientific research require improvement. The possibility to use the human materials in the future, conditions for getting access to the data, the possibility of their withdrawal from the database and using the materials and data after the death of the donor should be clearly determined when the informed consent to collect the material is obtained.
biobanks; research ethics; informed consent; genetic collection; management
The development of genomics has dramatically expanded the scope of genetic research, and collections of genetic biosamples have proliferated in countries with active genomics research programs. In this essay, we consider a particular kind of collection, national biobanks. National biobanks are often presented by advocates as an economic “resource” that will be used by both basic researchers and academic biologists, as well as by pharmaceutical diagnostic and clinical genomics companies. Although national biobanks have been the subject of intense interest in recent social science literature, most prior work on this topic focuses either on bioethical issues related to biobanks, such as the question of informed consent, or on the possibilities for scientific citizenship that they make possible. We emphasize, by contrast, the economic aspect of biobanks, focusing specifically on the way in which national biobanks create biovalue. Our emphasis on the economic aspect of biobanks allows us to recognize the importance of what we call clinical labor—that is, the regularized, embodied work that members of the national population are expected to perform in their role as biobank participants—in the creation of biovalue through biobanks. Moreover, it allows us to understand how the technical way in which national biobanks link clinical labor to databases alters both medical and popular understandings of risk for common diseases and conditions.
biobank; clinical labor; database; risk; biovalue
The international transfer of human biomaterial and data has become a prerequisite for collaborative biomedical research to be successful. However, although a national legal framework for ‘biobanking' has already been formulated in many countries, little is known about how an international exchange of data and samples might affect the legal position of national biobanks and their donors. The German Telematics Platform and the Competence Network ‘Congenital Heart Defects' jointly instigated a project (BMB-EUCoop) to (i) identify and assess the legal risks ensuing for biobanks and their donors in the context of Europe-wide research collaborations, (ii) devise practical recommendations to minimize or avoid these risks, and (iii) provide generic informational text, contracts and agreements to facilitate their practical implementation. Four different countries were included in the study; namely, the UK, Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. The results of the study indicate that the degree of similarity between legal systems in different countries varies according to the respective field of jurisdiction. Although personality and property rights have long been enshrined in virtually identical pieces of law, the applicable medical professional regulations were found to be somewhat heterogeneous. Furthermore, clear-cut differences were often found to be lacking between regulations that reflect either ‘soft law' or the nationally binding ‘hard law' that has emerged from it. In view of the potential ambiguities, the experts uniformly concluded that the rights and interests of national (in this case, German) biobanks and their donors would be best protected by explicitly addressing any uncertainties in formal contractual agreements.
The Friuli Venezia Giulia (FVG), a region of North Eastern Italy, has passed legislation (Decree No 2324/2010) to regulate the banking of umbilical cord blood samples for personal, autologous, or family-directed use, and to implement the Agreement of the State-Regions Permanent Conference (Decree No 62/CSR/2010). This paper aims to identify the formalities and the reasons why families collect and bank their cord blood in foreign banks for both personal and private use.
To this end, at the Institute for Maternal and Child Health of Trieste (the regional capital city of the FVG), Italy, which assists about 1800 pregnant women a year, 129 questionnaires, drafted from January 2010 to December 2011 and concerning the granting of authorization to export samples, were examined.
The collected data showed that 75% of involved families had resorted to anonymous public collection, which is available to anyone with therapeutic needs, and provided compatibility and hematologic protocols recognized by the scientific and international community (main indications: leukemia, hemoglobinopaties, and inherited hematologic and immunologic disorders). Conversely, 25.0% requested private storage at a foreign bank for personal or family-dedicated use. The principal motivation by disease was for treatment for diabetes (22.4%) and celiac disease (19.7%) (a multiorgan disease for which the FVG region has provided safeguards by approving a specific law granting support to families; Decree No 561/2007). For these two types of disease we found that information was received from the internet and not from general medical physicians, with a significant difference found using the χ2 test (P < 0.01).
The indication of treating these diseases with cord blood stem cell transplantation appears to be well grounded and encouraging, and has recently been corroborated by the international literature; however, the economic and social motivations promoting cord blood storage, for a fee, in the event of diseases that are still under study, require accurate information through general medical physicians on the actual possibilities of treatment.
autologous cord blood harvesting; North Eastern Italy; emerging hopes of therapy
This paper presents the results of an exploratory qualitative study that assesses Canadian pediatric researchers’ perceptions of a pre-selected group of ethical issues raised by pharmacogenomics research with children.
As a pilot study, we conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with Canadian pediatric pharmacogenomic researchers. The interviews were guided by the following themes: (1) benefits and risks of inclusion, (2) the consent/assent process, and (3) the return of research results.
Issues about assent, consent, risks and benefits, as well as the communication of results were addressed by the respondents. Some issues, such as the unique vulnerability of children, the long term privacy concerns associated with biobanking, additional core elements that need to be discussed and included in the consent/assent forms, as well as the challenges of communicating research results in a pediatric research were not explicitly identified by the respondents.
Further consideration should be given to address the ethical challenges of including children in pharmacogenomics research. This exploratory study indicates that further guidance is needed if children are to be protected and yet benefit from such research.
Ethical; Health professionals; Pediatric; Perceptions; Pharmacogenomics; Research; Social
Biobank research has been the focus of great interest of scholars and regulatory bodies who have addressed different ethical issues. On the basis of a review of the literature it may be concluded that, regarding some major themes in this discussion, a consensus seems to emerge on the international scene after the regular exchange of arguments in scientific journals. Broad or general consent is emerging as the generally preferred solution for biobank studies and straightforward instructions for coding will optimise privacy while facilitating research that may result in new methods for the prevention of disease and for medical treatment. The difficult question regarding the return of information to research subjects is the focus of the current research, but a helpful analysis of some of the issues at stake and concrete recommendations have recently been suggested.
informed consent; privacy; incidental findings; public trust; ethics; biobanks
Clinical trials involving children previously considered unethical are now considered essential because of the inherent physiological differences between children and adults. An integral part of research ethics is the informed consent, which for children is obtained by proxy from a consenting parent or guardian. The informed consent process is governed by international ethical codes that are interpreted in accordance with local laws and procedures raising the importance of contextualizing their implementation.
In Zimbabwe the parental informed consent document for children participating in clinical research is modeled along western laws of ethics and requires that the parent or legally authorized representative provide consent on behalf of a minor. This article highlights the experiences and lessons learnt by Zimbabwean researchers in obtaining informed consent from guardians of orphaned children participating in a collaborative HIV clinical trial involving the Medical Research Council, United Kingdom and four centers, three of which are in Uganda. Researchers were faced with a situation where caregivers of orphaned children were not permitted to provide informed consent for trial participation. The situation contrasted with general clinical practice where consent for procedures on orphans is obtained from their caregivers who are not legal guardians.
The challenges faced in obtaining informed consent for orphans in this clinical trial underscores the need for the Zimbabwe ethics committee to develop an ethical and legal framework for pediatric research that is based on international guidelines while taking into account the cultural context. The Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe has since started the process that is expected to involve critical stakeholders namely the community including children, ethicists, the legal fraternity and researchers.
Human biological specimens (biospecimens) are increasingly important for research that aims to advance human health. Yet, despite significant proliferation in specimen-based research and discoveries during the past decade, researchremains challenged by the inequitable access to high quality biospecimens that are collected under rigorous ethical standards. This is primarily caused by the complex level of control and ownership exerted by the myriad of stakeholders involved in the biospecimen research process. This article discusses the ethical model of custodianship as a framework for biospecimen-based research to promote fair research access and resolve issues of control and potential conflicts between biobanks**, investigators, human research participants (human subjects), and sponsors. Custodianship is the caretaking obligation for biospecimens from initial collection to final dissemination of research findings. It endorses key practices and operating principles for responsible oversight of biospecimens collected for research. Embracing the custodial model would ensure transparency in research, fairness to human research participants, and shared accountability among all stakeholders involved in biospecimen-based research.
The rapid emergence of large-scale genetic databases raises issues at the nexus of medical law and ethics, as well as the need, at both national and international levels, for an appropriate and effective framework for their governance. This is even more so for retrospective access to data for secondary uses, wherein the original consent did not foresee such use. The first part of this paper provides a brief historical overview of the ethical and legal frameworks governing consent issues in biobanking generally, before turning to the secondary use of retrospective data in epidemiological biobanks. Such use raises particularly complex issues when (1) the original consent provided is restricted; (2) the minor research subject reaches legal age; (3) the research subject dies; or (4) samples and data were obtained during medical care. Our analysis demonstrates the inconclusive, and even contradictory, nature of guidelines and confirms the current lack of compatible regulations. The second part of this paper uses the European Network for Genetic and Genomic Epidemiology (ENGAGE Consortium) as a case study to illustrate the challenges of research using previously collected data sets in Europe. Our study of 52 ENGAGE consent forms and information documents shows that a broad range of mechanisms were developed to enable secondary use of the data that are part of the ENGAGE Consortium.
The amount of research utilizing health information has increased dramatically over the last ten years. Many institutions have extensive biobank holdings collected over a number of years for clinical and teaching purposes, but are uncertain as to the proper circumstances in which to permit research uses of these samples. Research Ethics Boards (REBs) in Canada and elsewhere in the world are grappling with these issues, but lack clear guidance regarding their role in the creation of and access to registries and biobanks.
Chairs of 34 REBS and/or REB Administrators affiliated with Faculties of Medicine in Canadian universities were interviewed. Interviews consisted of structured questions dealing with diabetes-related scenarios, with open-ended responses and probing for rationales. The two scenarios involved the development of a diabetes registry using clinical encounter data across several physicians' practices, and the addition of biological samples to the registry to create a biobank.
There was a wide range of responses given for the questions raised in the scenarios, indicating a lack of clarity about the role of REBs in registries and biobanks. With respect to the creation of a registry, a minority of sites felt that consent was not required for the information to be entered into the registry. Whether patient consent was required for information to be entered into the registry and the duration for which the consent would be operative differed across sites. With respect to the creation of a biobank linked to the registry, a majority of sites viewed biobank information as qualitatively different from other types of personal health information. All respondents agreed that patient consent was needed for blood samples to be placed in the biobank but the duration of consent again varied.
Participants were more attuned to issues surrounding biobanks as compared to registries and demonstrated a higher level of concern regarding biobanks. As registries and biobanks expand, there is a need for critical analysis of suitable roles for REBs and subsequent guidance on these topics. The authors conclude by recommending REB participation in the creation of registries and biobanks and the eventual drafting of comprehensive legislation.
Private cord blood banks are for-profit companies that facilitate storage of umbilical cord blood for personal or family use. Pediatric hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) physicians are currently best situated to use cord blood therapeutically. We sought to describe the experiences and views of these physicians regarding private cord blood banking.
Participants and Methods
Emailed cross-sectional survey of pediatric HCT physicians in the United States and Canada. 93/152 potentially eligible physicians (93/130 confirmed survey recipients) from 57 centers responded. Questions addressed the number of transplants performed using privately banked cord blood, willingness to use banked autologous cord blood in specific clinical settings, and recommendations to parents regarding private cord blood banking.
Respondents reported having performed 9 autologous and 41 allogeneic transplants using privately banked cord blood. In 36/40 allogeneic cases for which data were available, the cord blood had been collected because of a known indication in the recipient. Few respondents would choose autologous cord blood over alternative stem cell sources for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in second remission. In contrast, 55% would choose autologous cord blood to treat high-risk neuroblastoma, or to treat severe aplastic anemia in the absence of an available sibling donor. No respondent would recommend private cord blood banking for a newborn with one healthy sibling when both parents were of Northern European descent; 11% would recommend banking when parents were of different minority ethnicities.
Few transplants have been performed using cord blood stored in the absence of a known indication in the recipient. Willingness to use banked autologous cord blood varies depending on disease and availability of alternative stem cell sources. Few pediatric HCT physicians endorse private cord blood banking in the absence of an identified recipient, even for mixed-ethnicity children for whom finding a suitably matched unrelated donor may be difficult.
Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation; Cord Blood Stem Cell Transplantation; Bioethics
The issue of notifying people who have been exposed to blood products that have been associated with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) has arisen at a time when the Canadian blood system is under intense scrutiny. As a result, the Canadian Red Cross Society issued a recommendation to health care institutions that recipients of CJD-associated blood products be identified, notified and counselled. Although Canadian jurisprudence in the realm of informed consent may support a policy of individual notification, a review of the scientific evidence and the applicable ethical principles arguably favours a policy of a more general public notification. Indeed, situations such as this require a unique approach to the formation of legal and ethical duties, one that effectively integrates all relevant factors. As such, the authors argue that individual notification is currently not justified. Nevertheless, if a system of general notification is implemented (e.g., through a series of public health announcements), it should provide, for people who wish to know, the opportunity to find out whether they were given CJD-associated products.
Umbilical cord blood is a potential vast source of primitive hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells available for clinical application to reconstitute the hematopoietic system and/or restore immunological function in affected individuals requiring treatment. Cord blood can be used as an alternative source for bone marrow transplantation and its use is developing into a new field of treatment for pediatric and adult patients presenting with hematological disorders, immunological defects and specific genetic diseases.
More than 25,000 allogeneic cord blood transplantations have been performed worldwide since the first cord blood transplantation in 1988. There are two banking options for storing umbilical cord blood [private (family) and public]. Cord blood stored in private banks are used for either autologous or allogeneic transplants for the infant donor or related family members but private cord blood banks are not searchable or available to the public. More than 780,000 cord blood units are stored in over 130 private cord blood banks, worldwide, and over 400,000 units in more than 100 quality controlled public cord blood banks.
Researchers continue to evaluate the usefulness of cord blood cells in treating human diseases or disorders for purposes other than hematological disorders including heart disease, strokes, brain or spinal cord injuries and cancer. This review summarizes the status of umbilical cord blood banking, its history and current and potential use in the treatment of human disease.
Umbilical cord blood; Public and private cord blood banks; Transplantation; Clinical applications; Regenerative medicine
The Italian Twin Registry (ITR) has been carrying out several genetic-epidemiological studies. Collection and storage of biological material from study participants has recently increased in the light of biobanking development. Within this scenario, we aimed at investigating understanding, awareness and attitude towards blood/DNA donation of research participants. About these quite unknown dimensions more knowledge is needed from ethical and social perspectives.
Cross-sectional mail survey to explore three dimensions: (i) understanding of aims and method of a specific study, (ii) attitude (three ideas for donation: "moral duty", "pragmatism", "spontaneity") and (iii) awareness (i.e. the recall of having been asked to donate) towards blood/DNA donation for research, among all the Italian twins who had participated in Euroclot (n = 181), a large international genetic-epidemiological study. Multivariate models were applied to investigate the association of sex, age, education and modality of Euroclot recruitment (twins enrolled in the ITR and volunteers) with the targeted dimensions. Pair-wise twin concordance for the "pragmatic" attitude was estimated in monozygotic and dizygotic pairs.
Response rate was 56% (99 subjects); 75.8% understood the Euroclot method, only 33.3% correctly answered about the study aim. A significantly better understanding of aim and method was detected in "volunteers". Graduated subjects were more likely to understand study aim. In the overall sample, the "pragmatic" attitude to blood donation reached 76.8%, and biobanking awareness 89.9%. The latter was significantly higher among women. Monozygotic twins were more concordant than dizygotic twins for the "pragmatic" attitude towards blood/DNA donation for research.
Level of understanding of aims and methods of a specific research project seems to vary in relation to modalities of approaching research; most of the twins are well aware of having been asked to donate blood for biobanking activities, and seem to be motivated by a "pragmatic" attitude to blood/DNA donation. Genetic influences on this attitude were suggested. The framing of interests and concerns of healthy participants to genetic-epidemiological studies should be further pursued, since research, particularly for "common diseases", is increasingly relying on population surveys and biobanking.
Universities in Cameroon are playing an active part in HIV/AIDS research and much of this research is carried out by students, usually for the purpose of a dissertation/thesis. Student theses/dissertations present research findings in a much more comprehensive manner and have been described as the stepping-stone of a budding scientist’s potential in becoming an independent researcher. It is therefore important to verify how students handle issues of research ethics.
Theses/dissertations on HIV/AIDS that described research studies involving the use of human research participants were screened to verify if research ethics approval and informed consent were obtained and documented. The contents of the consent forms were also qualitatively analyzed.
Of 174 theses/dissertations on HIV, ethics approval was documented in 17 (9.77%) and informed consent in 77 (47.83%). Research ethics approval was first mentioned at all in 2002 and highly reported in the year 2007. Evidence of ethics approval was found for the first time in 2005 and informed consent first observed and evidenced in 1997. Ethics approval was mostly reported by students studying for an MD (14.01%) and was not reported in any Bachelors’ degree dissertation. Informed consent was also highly reported in MD theses (64.58%) followed by undergraduate theses (31.58%). Voluntary participation and potential benefits of the study were some of the common aspects dealt with in most of the consent forms. The right to discontinue participation in the study and management of residual samples were scarcely ever mentioned.
Overall, and given the current state of the art of research ethics around the world, student-scientists in Cameroon would seem to be merely kidding with research ethics. It is thus essential that training in health research ethics (HRE) be incorporated in the curriculum of universities in Cameroon in order that the next generation of scientists may be better equipped with thorough knowledge and practice of HRE. This, we believe, would be one way of fighting the occurrence of research scandals, which have not yet abated significantly, especially those arising from negligence or inexcusable ignorance.
Three recent Canadian legal cases have dealt with the proposed blood transfusion of adolescent members of Jehovah’s Witness (JW) families. In each case, the court permitted transfusions if medically necessary. Much critical analysis of the issue of forced treatment of decisionally competent adolescents focuses exclusively on competence and questions why mature minors may not decide for themselves. The authors argue that a focus on decision-making competence alone is too narrow. Before one may legally give or refuse consent to medical treatment, three conditions must be met: competence, adequate information and lack of coercion. In striving to find agreement on medical treatment, physicians, patients and JW family members seek and, in fact, often achieve mutual understanding and cooperation. Coercion by actual or threatened shunning and excommunication can occur, and these factors may affect adolescent decision-making. In this context, a court order authorizing medical treatment can, therefore, be seen as enhancing patient freedom. The authors suggest that, in addition to fulfilling existing statutory duties to report a child in need of protection, health care professionals caring for acute patients of JW families should actively look for evidence that the patient has accurate medical information and is acting without coercion. The authors also explore suggestions on how to deal with the unusual complexities of such cases.
Blood; Children; Emergency; Ethical issues; Jehovah’s Witness; Management
Obtaining a research participant’s voluntary and informed consent is the bedrock of sound ethics practice. Greater inclusion of children in research has led to questions about how paediatric consent operates in practice to accord with current and emerging legal and socio-ethical issues, norms, and requirements.
Employing a qualitative thematic content analysis, we examined paediatric consent forms from major academic centres and public organisations across Canada dated from 2008–2011, which were purposively selected to reflect different types of research ethics boards, participants, and studies. The studies included biobanking, longitudinal studies, and gene-environment studies. Our purpose was to explore the following six emerging issues: (1) whether the scope of parental consent allows for a child’s assent, dissent, or future consent; (2) whether the concepts of risk and benefit incorporate the child’s psychological and social perspective; (3) whether a child’s ability to withdraw is respected and to what extent withdrawal is permitted; (4) whether the return of research results includes individual results and/or incidental findings and the processes involved therein; (5) whether privacy and confidentiality concerns adequately address the child’s perspective and whether standard data and/or sample identifiability nomenclature is used; and (6) whether retention of and access to paediatric biological samples and associated medical data are addressed.
The review suggests gaps and variability in the consent forms with respect to addressing each of the six issues. Many forms did not discuss the possibility of returning research results, be they individual or general/aggregate results. Forms were also divided in terms of the scope of parental consent (specific versus broad), and none discussed a process for resolving disputes that can arise when either the parents or the child wishes to withdraw from the study.
The analysis provides valuable insight and evidence into how consent forms address current ethical issues. While we do not thoroughly explore the contexts and reasons behind consent form gaps and variability, we do advocate and formulate the development of best practices for drafting paediatric health research consent forms. This can greatly ameliorate current gaps and facilitate harmonised and yet contextualised approaches to paediatric health research ethics.
Children; Confidentiality; Consent; ELSI; Paediatric research; Research ethics; Return of results; Withdrawal