of children.2 In light of these particular issues, targeted research is needed to focus on these specific concerns; however, special protections are justifiably attached to vulnerable (“at-risk”) children.3 A brief analysis incorporating relevant case law follows the overview to highlight the ways in which states do—or do not—regulate research with these specific populations. Directions for state guidance are also provided.

SUMMARY OF STATE LAWS RELEVANT TO MEDICAL AND BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH WITH CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Age of Majority

As a first issue, the age of majority in each state is important, as it sets forth the age above which Subpart D of the federal regulations, in addition to any special state protections, do not apply. That is, it is important to know what each state defines as the age of majority, since those who are above the age of majority should not be subject to Subpart D. Most states set the age of majority at 18 years, meaning that—for legal purposes—children are those individuals who have not yet reached the age of 18 (Table B.2).4 This is a fairly easy “bright-line” standard of which to be aware. However, for purposes of determining the ability of children—most likely adolescents—to assent, and even consent, to research participation, it is important to go beyond these “majority” statutes to focus on other consent-related provisions.

It is also worth noting that this is a legal definition and, hence, is not necessarily indicative of the maturity level, decisional capacity, or cognitive abilities of youth. In fact, several commentators call for greater attention to this matter and clarity in the law to accord adolescents greater respect vis-

2  

In fact, statistics indicate that children in foster care often end up in out-of-home placements because of parental neglect and/or abuse, substance abuse, the disproportionate impact of poverty, human immunodeficiency virus infection/AIDS, and similar problems [7].

3  

These protections are typically state specific and are often not formalized in policy but, rather, are handled on a case-by-case basis and are dependent on a variety of factors, such as the risks-benefits of the study, the age ranges of the children, the presence or availability of parents, and treatment alternatives outside of research.

4  

State statutes, administrative regulations, case law, and other written policies were identified through searches of Lexis/Nexis (a legal database) and were affirmed through reference to ClinLaw (a Thompson Publishing Group-sponsored database containing information on clinical laws) and the advice of other experts. As this is a complicated area of the law, a great deal of it exists at an “informal” (less “explicit”) level, and as adolescent maturity is an everchanging concept, this review and the accompanying tables are not meant to be relied upon as exhaustive studies of the law; rather, they offer insights into the myriad of ways in which states may approach—or choose not to approach—these issues.



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