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Non-therapeutic research with minors: how do chairpersons of German research ethics committees decide?
  1. C Lenk*,
  2. K Radenbach*,
  3. M Dahl,
  4. C Wiesemann
  1. Department for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Goettingen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C Lenk
 Department for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, Humboldtallee 36, 37073 Goettingen, Germany;


Objectives: Clinical trials in humans in Germany—as in many other countries—must be approved by local research ethics committees (RECs). The current study has been designed to document and evaluate decisions of chairpersons of RECs in the problematic field of non-therapeutic research with minors. The authors’ purpose was to examine whether non-therapeutic research was acceptable for chairpersons at all, and whether there was certainty on how to decide in research trials involving more than minimal risk.

Design: In a questionnaire, REC chairpersons had to evaluate five different scenarios with (in parts) non-therapeutic research. The scenarios described realistic potential research projects with minors, involving increasing levels of risk for the research participants. The chairpersons had to decide whether the respective projects should be approved.

Methods: A total of 49 German REC chairpersons were sent questionnaires; 29 questionnaires were returned. The main measurements were approval or rejection of research scenarios.

Results: Chairpersons of German RECs generally tend to accept non-therapeutic research with minors if the apparent risk for the participating children is low. If the risk is clearly higher than “minimal”, the chairpersons’ decisions differ widely.

Conclusion: The fact that there seem to be different attitudes of chairpersons to non-therapeutic research with minors is problematic from an ethical point of view. It suggests a general uncertainty about the standards of protection for minor research participants in Germany. Therefore, further ethical and legal regulation of non-therapeutic research with minors in Germany seems necessary.

  • REC, research ethics committee
  • non-therapeutic research
  • minors
  • German research ethics committees
  • ethical and legal regulations of clinical trials in Germany

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  • * Both authors contributed equally to this article.

  • This study was funded by a research grant from the Volkswagen Vorab.