Research with Children
Guidance regarding research conducted with participants under 18 years old
The primary ethical considerations concerning research with children are described in the first section of the Belmont Report, respect for persons.Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. The principle of respect for persons thus divides into two separate moral requirements: the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy. (Belmont Report, 1979)
Issues to consider regarding respect for persons in dealing with children is that there are many circumstances in which children are not considered autonomous. Adults make many decisions for children, which is generally very appropriate. With regard to research, however, ethics guidelines explicitly state that investigators must treat children as autonomous and respect their stated wishes whether they choose to participate in research or not.
The second ethical issue related to research with children is that they are considered persons with diminished authority. Because their developmental stage dictates that their decision-making skills are limited by their maturity, they are entitled to protections that are not afforded to adults who participate in research.
These two provisions conflict in very fundamental ways, which makes research with children a challenge. Responses to the questions on the following page help the IRB understand how investigators plan to both respect the autonomy and protect the wellbeing of the children who participate in their research.