Article 5: The Role of Parents in the Proxy Informed Consent Process in Medical Research involving Children

Article 5: The Role of Parents in the Proxy Informed Consent Process in Medical Research involving Children
Research Article
Sheila Varadan
The International Journal of Children’s Rights 24 August 2020; 28(3) pp 521-546
Open Access
Medical research involving child subjects has led to advances in medicine that have dramatically improved the lives, health and well-being of children. Yet, determining when and under what conditions a child should be enrolled in medical research remains an ethically vexing question in research ethics. At the crux of the issue is the free and informed consent of the child participant. A child, who is presumed legally incompetent, or lacks sufficient understanding to exercise autonomous decision-making, will not be able to express free and informed consent in the research setting. Rather than exclude all such children from medical research, a parent (or legal guardian) is designated as a proxy to consent on the child’s behalf. However, the concept of proxy informed consent and the framework for its implementation present practical and ethical challenges for researchers, particularly in navigating the relationship between proxy decision-makers and child subjects in the medical research setting. Article 5 of the uncrc may offer guidance on this point: (1) it places boundaries around how parental authority should be exercised; (2) it offers a model for parent-child decision-making that is participatory, collaborative and linked to the child’s enjoyment of rights under the uncrc; (3) it respects and supports the autonomy of child participants by recognising their evolving capacities to give informed consent. This paper concludes that greater consideration should be given to Article 5 as a complementary framework for researchers engaged in medical research involving children.

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