Nearly everyone has experienced a burn and the resulting pain. Now imagine that you suffer a third-degree radiation burn that injures all the layers of your skin as well as the tissue, causing you extreme pain. . The burn turns your skin white, cherry red, or black and may produce blisters that are dry, hard, and leathery-looking. The burn can also be seen on the surface of your lungs and gastrointestinal tract. If the burn is big enough you will need skin grafts and surgery to replace the skin and tissue that will never grow back, as well as treatment to prevent infection. Assumedly, no human being would intentionally cause another human being to experience this type of pain and suffering. However, U.S. researchers did. Researchers at the Medical College of Virginia conducted radiation tests on healthy African American children, as young as 6 months old, deliberately causing third-degree burns to their skin.1 The tests not only damaged the skin of these children, causing them extreme pain, but it also required surgery and skin grafts.2
Although the central purpose of medical research on children is to “generate new knowledge” that can improve children’s health, research “can never take precedence over the rights and interests of” children serving as research subjects.3 Unfortunately, medical research has too often taken precedence over the rights and interests of children, which is why many researchers and bioethicists have characterized the history of medical research on children as a history of child abuse.4 Usually, the debate regarding the use of children in medical research studies has centered on questions regarding the ethical principles of autonomy (informed consent)5 and beneficence (the best interest of the child based on a benefit risk analysis).6 The debate has rarely focused on the justice principle.7
Yearby, Ruqaiijah A., "Missing the “Target”: Preventing the Unjust Inclusion of Vulnerable Children for Medical Research Studies" (2016). All Faculty Scholarship. 83.