Friday, July 14, 2000

Bad medicine

Low on cash? Trying to build up a college fund? Just want to raise your kids' allowance? Medical science has an offer for you: Let us use your children as guinea pigs in drug studies.

For years, no one has bothered to test children's medications; doctors just made their best guess as to how much of a drug that works on grown-ups would have the desired effect on kids. Which means that one way or another, many of our children have been participating in drug studies all along. But now the FDA is formalizing matters and requiring that before a medication can be given to children, it must receive clinical testing on children.

And that's all well and good, but would you want them tested on your kids? Would you want to knowingly feed your little ones pills that might harm them? It's one thing for adults to consent to be test subjects of their own free will, but how can you do that for your children?

Drug companies, for their part, are offering incentives. Sometimes it's cash. Sometimes it's Geoffrey dollars. Sometimes it's an opportunity to try a wonder drug that might cure the child's very real affliction.

And that last one, I can understand. I can understand parents signing their kids up for drug trials in order to gain access to a particular medication. Most of the pediatric studies listed on the government's ClinicalTrials database are testing medications for cancer and HIV, and those are certainly desperate situations that call for desperate measures. It might be worth the risk of unknown side effects--or worth the risk, given the nature of medical tests, of dosing your child with a placebo that does nothing at all.

But would you take the same risks to, say, test a hayfever medication? Most of these trials involve extensive blood-testing. I can barely get my kids in the doctor's office for shots and finger-sticks that they do need. I can't imagine signing them up for something that involves additional dances with needles. The testing staff would have to beef up for the job of wrestling my kiddos into submission.

Surely we can all agree that this is a necessary thing to do, that adult drugs should not be administered to children if no one knows how safe they are. But as with many necessary things to do, I sure wouldn't want to do it. If you did this sort of thing on your own--giving your kids pills out of your medicine chest just to see what will happen, for example--it would be child abuse. But I guess if the drug companies do it, it's research.

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