The paucity of research data to guide current paediatric practice has led to children being termed therapeutic orphans. This difficulty is especially pertinent to research in emergency situations, such as acute resuscitation or critical care, where accepted ethical standards for overall research, have historically created practical difficulties for researchers. The welcome establishment of organisations to support UK paediatric research is helping to ensure safer and more effective medications for children, however as the balance between protection and access at the heart of the paediatric research ethical debate shifts to ever increasing access for researchers to children, it remains crucial to ensure the protection for these vulnerable participants. The fundamental protection for research subjects, namely their full informed consent before any recruitment, is not tenable in true emergency situations and so other approaches are warranted if standards are to be improved by human subjects research in such areas. Proxy, deferred and retrospective consent have all been advocated as solutions to this difficulty and this paper explores the ethical justification for these approaches and their utility in safeguarding children and families in emergency situations when traditional informed consent, as currently defined, cannot be obtained in the necessary time frame to enable research.
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Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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