J Med Ethics 32:292-297 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.010579
  • Research ethics

A questionnaire on factors influencing children’s assent and dissent to non-therapeutic research

  1. O D Wolthers
  1. Correspondence to:
 Ole D Wolthers
 MD, DMSci, Consultant Paediatrician, Children’s Clinic Randers, Dytmaersken 9, DK-8900 Randers, Denmark; akk.odws{at}
  • Received 12 September 2004
  • Accepted 25 May 2005
  • Revised 5 May 2005


Background: Knowledge about assent or dissent of children to non-therapeutic research is poor.

Objectives: To assess sociodemographic characteristics in healthy children and adolescents who were invited to participate in non-therapeutic research, to evaluate their motives for assent or dissent and their understanding of the information given.

Methods: A total of 1281 healthy children and adolescents six to sixteen years of age were invited to participate in a non-therapeutic study and a questionnaire.

Results: Assenting children were motivated by a desire to help sick children (n = 638, 98%) and to gain experience with participating in a research study (n = 503, 82%). Dissenting children made their decision because of worries about having a blood (n = 193, 46%) or a urine sample (n = 94, 26%) taken or because of worries about a doctor’s examination (n = 136, 33%). Fewer children in the assent group (n = 166, 25%) than in the dissent group (136, 33%) worried about the doctor’s examination (p = 0.01). In the assent and dissent group, 568 (86%) and 343 (85%) children, respectively, said they were able to understand some or all of the written information (p = 0.42), and 650 (97%) and 330 (98%), respectively, were able to understand some or all of the verbal information (p = 0.07).

Conclusions: Sociodemographic characteristics may not influence healthy children’s decision to volunteer for non-therapeutic research. Assenting children have altruistic and educational motives, whereas worries about procedures may cause children to dissent. A great majority of school children and adolescents feel capable of understanding and giving assent or dissent to non-therapeutic research.