Balancing the risks and benefits of participating in medical research

8 December 2010

Associate Professor Cameron Stewart discussed the the legal and ethical issues surrounding medical research in a special edition of The Law Report on Radio National.

Associate Professor Stewart spoke of a case involved a Victorian couple who approached a court because their situation was legally ambiguous, and they needed an answer urgently.

"Baby A was a child who had a fatal metabolic disorder," he said.

"The actual disorder wasn't disclosed by the court in the judgment, because it was such a rare occurrence that if the disease had been diclosed, the child would have been able to be identified.

"So there was this very, very difficult situation of a child who was definitely going to die who had a condition where there was no known treatments.

"But someone had come up with the idea of an experimental treatment, and the choice there was do we provide a treatment with no known benefits, but with a potential benefit - and in the context of children, there's a limit to the thing that we can consent to, and we can only normally consent when it's in the child's best interest.

"So if you have an experimental procedure which you don't know whether it's going to give any benefit and may in fact give side-effects which will be harmful, is that the type of decision that can be made by parents alone with the help of their doctors, or do you need the help of the court to provide an overview, a third party review of whether this is something that should go ahead?"

Download the audio or view the transcript - Medical Research - The Law Report

Contact: Greg Sherington

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