How to navigate the legalities of a child's participation in clinical trials in New York.

Navigating Child Participation in Clinical Trials in New York

Participation in clinical trials is a critical component of medical research, contributing to the development of new treatments and therapies. When it involves children, the process is governed by stringent ethical and legal standards, particularly in New York State. Ensuring the child's safety and protecting their rights are paramount. Here's how to navigate the complex legalities surrounding a child's involvement in clinical trials.

Understanding Consent and Assent

In New York, as in other jurisdictions, 'informed consent' is a key legal requirement for clinical trial participation. For minors, who cannot legally give consent, parents or legal guardians must provide 'proxy consent' on their behalf. Additionally, the concept of 'assent' becomes relevant; children capable of understanding should be informed about the trial in age-appropriate language and their willingness to participate should be considered.

Reviewing Institutional Review Board (IRB) Oversight

An Institutional Review Board (IRB) must review and approve any clinical trial involving children. The IRB, a committee mandated by federal law, scrutinizes the study's ethical considerations, ensuring risks are minimized and benefits outweigh the potential harm. In New York, the IRB also ensures compliance with both federal regulations and state-specific laws regarding medical research on minors.

Complying with Federal and State Regulations

At the federal level, regulations under 21 CFR 50 Subpart D provide additional protections for children in clinical trials, including categorizing research based on risk and potential benefit. New York law requires adherence to these regulations and incorporates its own layers of protection for minors, which can be found under Title 6 of NYCRR Part 98.

Evaluating Risks and Benefits

The potential risks and benefits of a clinical trial must be thoroughly evaluated. This includes considering the child's health status, the nature of the illness being studied, and the possibility of direct benefit from participation. Trials that do not offer a prospect of direct benefit must have a favorable risk-benefit ratio and promise to yield vital knowledge about the child's condition.

Seeking Legal Advice

It is advisable for parents or guardians to seek legal counsel when considering enrolling their child in a clinical trial. A lawyer specialized in healthcare law can provide guidance on the specific legalities involved, help interpret complex medical research protocols, and ensure that all necessary safeguards are in place.

Historical Context: The Importance of Regulation

The importance of strict regulations in pediatric clinical trials was highlighted by historical events such as the Willowbrook State School hepatitis studies in Staten Island, New York during the 1950s and 1960s. These studies involved deliberately infecting mentally disabled children with hepatitis without proper consent procedures, leading to widespread public outcry and reforms in research ethics.


Navigating the legalities surrounding a child's participation in clinical trials requires careful consideration. Parents must ensure informed consent is obtained through clear communication with their child about the trial's purpose and procedures. Adherence to IRB requirements, federal guidelines, and state laws is essential to protect the welfare of young participants. Engaging with healthcare legal professionals can facilitate this complex process.