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Open Access Debate

How do parents experience being asked to enter a child in a randomised controlled trial?

Valerie Shilling* and Bridget Young

Author Affiliations

Division of Clinical Psychology, School of Population, Community and Behavioural Sciences, Whelan Building, Quadrangle, University of Liverpool, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, L69 3GB, UK

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BMC Medical Ethics 2009, 10:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-10-1

Published: 16 February 2009

Abstract

Background

As the number of randomised controlled trials of medicines for children increases, it becomes progressively more important to understand the experiences of parents who are asked to enrol their child in a trial. This paper presents a narrative review of research evidence on parents' experiences of trial recruitment focussing on qualitative research, which allows them to articulate their views in their own words.

Discussion

Parents want to do their best for their children, and socially and legally their role is to care for and protect them yet the complexities of the medical and research context can challenge their fulfilment of this role. Parents are simultaneously responsible for their child and cherish this role yet they are dependent on others when their child becomes sick. They are keen to exercise responsibility for deciding to enter a child in a trial yet can be fearful of making the 'wrong' decision. They make judgements about the threat of the child's condition as well as the risks of the trial yet their interpretations often differ from those of medical and research experts. Individual parents will experience these and other complexities to a greater or lesser degree depending on their personal experiences and values, the medical situation of their child and the nature of the trial. Interactions at the time of trial recruitment offer scope for negotiating these complexities if practitioners have the flexibility to tailor discussions to the needs and situation of individual parents. In this way, parents may be helped to retain a sense that they have acted as good parents to their child whatever decision they make.

Summary

Discussing randomised controlled trials and gaining and providing informed consent is challenging. The unique position of parents in giving proxy consent for their child adds to this challenge. Recognition of the complexities parents face in making decisions about trials suggests lines for future research on the conduct of trials, and ultimately, may help improve the experience of trial recruitment for all parties.