Bioethics Blogs

“Ethically Sound” Episode 1: Safeguarding Children

Since the Bioethics Commission was established via Executive Order by President Obama, the Bioethics Commission has released 10 reports on a variety of ethically challenging topics, and has provided recommendations on topics ranging from synthetic biology to neuroscience to whole genome sequencing. In an effort to share the Bioethics Commission’s work with a wide variety of audiences, we are issuing a new podcast series called “Ethically Sound.” Today’s episode, the first in the series, focuses on the Commission’s report Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research, which addressed the ethically challenging topic of when and how to test pediatric medical countermeasures for possible bioterrorism agents. When and how, for example, should we test an anthrax vaccine, approved for adults, in children?

The Ethically Sound: Safeguarding Children podcast centers around the question: How can we best protect children in the event of a bioterrorism attack? At the time this report was written, a vaccine for anthrax had only been tested in adults, but not in children. The Commission was asked to provide recommendations on how this vaccine could be safely tested in children, and when the vaccine would be ethically permissible to test.

The podcast opens with a narrative from Dr. Suzet McKinney, who is the Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District Commission. Dr. McKinney discusses how her public health training taught her that vaccines were largely beneficial, but the thought of an anthrax vaccine that had not been tested in children was a cause for concern. “If there were an anthrax bioterrorism attack in the US and the government determined a need to immunize children with a vaccine that had not been tested and deemed safe, experience tells me that even the most aggressive and comprehensive efforts to educate parents about the risks and potential benefits will be met with anxiety, fear, protest and apprehension… even I would have difficulty agreeing to an untested anthrax vaccine for my own child in the absence of a real, credible threat of attack.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.