J Med Ethics 33:659-662 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.018853
  • Research ethics

Children, Gillick competency and consent for involvement in research

  1. D Hunter,
  2. B K Pierscionek
  1. School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Co Londonderry, UK
  1. David Hunter, Lecturer in Bioethics, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Cromore Road, Coleraine BT52 1SA; d.hunter3{at}
  • Received 1 August 2006
  • Revised 9 October 2006
  • Accepted 12 October 2006


This paper looks at the issue of consent from children and whether the test of Gillick competency, applied in medical and healthcare practice, ought to extend to participation in research. It is argued that the relatively broad usage of the test of Gillick competency in the medical context should not be considered applicable for use in research. The question of who would and could determine Gillick competency in research raises further concerns relating to the training of the researcher to make such a decision as well as to the obvious issue of the researcher’s personal interest in the project and possibility of benefiting from the outcome. These could affect the judgment of Gillick competency if the researcher is charged with making this decision. The above notwithstanding, there are two exceptional research situations in which Gillick competency might be legitimately applied: (1) when the research is likely to generate significant advantages for the participants while exposing them to relatively minor risks, and (2) when it is likely to generate great societal benefit, pose minimal risks for the participants and yet raise parental objection. In both cases, to ensure that autonomy is genuinely respected and to protect against personal interest, Gillick competency should be assessed by an individual who has no interest or involvement in the research.


  • Competing interests: None declared.