Human Exceptionalism

Anthrax Vaccine Testing Okayed for Children!

I can’t imagine President Bush’s Council on Bioethics ever countenancing this, but President Obama’s bioethics advisory commission has given conditional approval to test anthrax vaccine on children! From the Reuters story:

“We have to get this precisely right,” panel Chair Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, said at a news conference. “Many significant steps would have to be taken” before a pediatric anthrax vaccine trial could be considered, she said. But she added that it is important “to develop the knowledge needed to save children’s lives” in the event of an anthrax attack. Balancing the need to protect children against the need to know, for instance, the safe dose of the vaccine, made this “one of the most difficult ethical reviews a bioethics board has ever conducted,” Gutmann said.

Activists said the board was wrong not to oppose unequivocally testing the anthrax vaccine in children. Vera Sharav, founder of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, predicted that such a study would cause “moral harm for us as a nation and suffering for the children. They should have said, ‘thou shalt not.’”

This is non therapeutic testing in that the children are healthy and their lives and health will be put at risk. Children could definitely be harmed in these tests:

Federal regulations set a high bar for research on kids. If the chance of their benefiting is minuscule or nil, and the potential risk even minimal, children are usually off-limits. The presidential bioethics panel conceded that “there is no prospect of direct benefit to children” who participate in an anthrax-vaccine study, Gutmann said. According to the biodefense board, children in such a study would face more than minimal risk (defined as a risk no greater than that in daily life or at a check-up), mostly because the side effects of the vaccine in children are unknown.

So who’s children will be put forward as the guinea pigs? If they go forward, I suggest the first to volunteer be the children or grandchildren of the council members. I’ll bet there would be no takers.

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