The moral imperative to approve pregnant women’s participation in randomized clinical trials for pregnancy and newborn complications

Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine 14 (1):1-11 (2019)
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Abstract

Background There is longstanding consensus on the need to include pregnant women in research. The goal of clinical research is to find highly regulated, carefully controlled, morally responsible ways to generate evidence about how to effectively and safely prevent illness or treat sick people. This manuscripts present a conceptual analysis of the ethicality of clinical trials in 3 scenarios: where the pregnant is involved in clinical trials as a participant during pregnancy for data that addresses pregnancy complications, where the pregnant woman consents to clinical trial participation for an unborn baby that has complications, to generate data on complications at this stage of life, and where the mother may consent for participation of their newborn child in clinical trials. Methods Conceptual analysis. Findings Investigators often choose to exclude pregnant women and newborns from research, even where there is possibility for them to benefit from the study intervention. Objections include vulnerability of pregnant women, altered pharmacokinetics and risk of adverse effects, with a need to balance potential maternal and fetal risks and benefits of research participation. While the objections may be valid, not performing research magnifies what should be a carefully controlled risk during research, pushing this risk into the clinical setting, and subsequently posing a challenge to clinicians who are faced with making treatment decisions for pregnant patients with limited evidence of efficacy and safety. The potential benefits of fair inclusion in clinical trials outweigh the potential risks. Conclusion Research involving pregnant women is necessary to provide women with effective treatment during pregnancy, to promote fetal safety, and to reduce avoidable harm from suboptimal care and to provide pregnant women, their fetuses and newborns.

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