Returning research results of pediatric genomic research to participants

The specific aim of this project is to determine what criteria should govern return of individual results of pediatric genomic research, using analysis of US law and international guidelines regarding decision making for and by minors as the foundation. This issue, which has received remarkably little attention, must be resolved if pediatric genomic research, which is vital to understanding the contributions of genetic variation to the health of children, is to proceed. In order to develop these criteria, it will be necessary to draw upon a host of ethical, legal, and sociocultural factors, using standard legal analytic tools.

  • There is a long tradition within genetics, embodied in policy statements, such as those by the American Society of Human Genetics, the American College of Medical Genetics, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, of performing genetic tests on minors only when the results would alter the minor’s immediate medical care. These limits are justified in part by the claim that, in the absence of need for immediate intervention, the minor should be allowed to decide about genetic testing upon reaching adulthood.
  • More generally, decisions regarding the health care of children are treated differently from those of adults because children, as a matter of law, typically cannot make their own health care decisions. Procedurally, ethical and legal decision making authority, instead, is allocated among:
    1. Parents who have broad authority to make choices among available options that affect their children. The scope of parental permission for their children’s care, however, is not as broad as their discretion with regard to their own health care
    2. Clinicians who have an independent obligation to the welfare of the minor, which is bounded by the standards of clinical practice as well as legal requirements
    3. Minors who many hold have an increasingly important ethical and legal voice as they mature
    4. In cases of abuse, neglect, or need to protect public health, the state. Substantively, defining the minor’s best interest is often contested. One issue that is particularly challenging is deciding what weight should be given to various potential benefits from returning results, ranging from immediate benefit to the minor’s health or reproductive information for the minor’s later use to benefits that redound primarily to the family unit as a whole or exclusively to the parents or even to other minors of the same age or with the same condition.
    5. Research involving minors is subject to more legal and ethical requirements and limitations than apply to adults.

This project brings together three internationally known lawyers, each of whom has written extensively about legal and policy issues in genomics research and in pediatrics, as well as an internationally known pediatrician- philosopher as a consultant, to define the applicable legal rules and to develop guidelines for returning results of genomic research involving minors.