Obtaining consent from both parents for pediatric research: What does “reasonably available” mean?
OBJECTIVE: Circumstances surrounding parental availability and decision-making were examined in the setting of a research protocol involving newborn screening (NBS) for fragile X syndrome, in which the institutional review board (IRB) had determined that consent (permission) was required from both parents.
METHODS: A survey was conducted with 3001 families who were approached to participate in optional NBS. In addition to basic demographics, observational notes detailed the reasons why fathers were not present or deemed “not reasonably available” (per IRB regulations), and content analysis identified the factors for this lack of availability. Logistic regression models estimated the likelihood that both parents would agree to enroll their infant in the screening project.
RESULTS: Fathers were not present in 589 cases, including 158 in which fathers were ultimately determined to be not reasonably available. Primary reasons for father’s unavailability were deployment with the military, incarceration, living out of state, or not involved in the mother’s life. In cases in which both parents were available, 64% agreed to enroll in the NBS study. Criteria to guide researchers in making required determinations were developed from consultations with IRB officials and legal counsel.
CONCLUSIONS: In a large-scale population-based study, 19.6% of fathers were absent for the consent process. Scenarios encountered underscore the complexity of parental relations and their implications for obtaining consent for research involving children. The algorithm developed may serve as a useful tool for others in applying the regulatory requirements for dual parental permission.