Clinical Trials and Your Child

Whether to agree to allow your child to participate in a clinical trial can be a difficult decision. Not only must you deal with your child having a serious illness, but you are also asked to make an additional decision about joining a study.

Some parents worry that their doctor is only interested in research and that their child is not the primary concern. The reality is that no patient, including your child, is secondary to research. Medical progress is made in the long term by establishing evidence for "best practices". No patient is ever knowingly put at risk to establish this evidence. 

It is true that treatment studies can be based on randomization, meaning your child will get one of two treatments based on chance. Parents worry that their child may get into the "wrong" group. The fact is, there is no known "wrong" group. Studies use this method to try to determine if one treatment is better than another treatment or no treatment at all. The point is, they do not yet know and finding out is the purpose of the study.

For more information, please read Research and Clinical Trials: An Overview.

Before making any decision, make sure the doctor or research nurse addresses all your questions and worries. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of clinical trials.

Questions to ask about a clinical trial

If you are asked to allow your child to participate in a clinical trial, you should ask the staff in charge of the study the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the study?
  • What is involved in the study?
  • What are the benefits of participating?
  • What are the risks of participating?
  • Is there any information about how other children have responded to the same treatment?
  • What are the side effects, both in the short-term and long-term? How will the side effects be prevented or managed?
  • Are any extra diagnostic tests required?
  • How will participating in the trial affect my child's daily life?
  • What effect might this have on other family members?

When you have the answers to these questions, feel free to take some time to think about whether you want to allow your child to participate. You may want to take a day or two to think it over, especially if the study will involve invasive procedures or take a lot of time.

How will my child be protected if we agree to join a clinical trial?

There is a system in place to protect babies, children, and adults who participate in clinical trials. First, the protocol must be approved by a review committee and research ethics board. During the clinical trial, these committees make sure the research protocol is being followed. Participants must be told in detail about the treatments, tests, possible benefits, and risks of the trial. This is called informed consent. Then they can make a decision. At any time, they may withdraw from a clinical trial.

For more information, please read Consent: Giving Informed Consent for Treatment and Research.

Trials are also independently monitored to ensure that safety is not compromised and that protocols are being followed.

What if we don't agree to join a trial?

You are free to decline to allow your child to participate in a clinical trial or other research. There is no penalty for not participating. Your child will receive excellent care either way.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of putting my child in a clinical trial?

Here are some general advantages and disadvantages to consider and talk to your doctor about.

Advantages

  • Your child gains access to new treatments that are not otherwise available.
  • Your child will obtain expert, state-of-the-art medical care.
  • Participation contributes to medical research and may help others in the future.

Disadvantages

  • Your child may need to have more tests or other complex drug requirements.
  • Depending on the phase of the trial, the result may not be known and the treatment may not work.
  • There may be unknown side effects or reactions.

Remember, participating in any kind of research is your choice. You should take all the time you need to decide. Your child's care will not be affected, whether or not you choose to participate.

Key points

  • Before you make a decision, make sure the researcher answers all of your questions.
  • You and your child may want to take a day or two to think about your decision.
  • You and your child are free to leave the study at any time.
  • Your child will receive excellent care, whether or not you decide to participate in a study.

Jonathan Hellmann, MBBCh, MHSc,  FCP(SA), FRCPC

12/11/2009




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