Rice scientists seek removal of legal restrictions on adolescents in HIV/STI studies

Scientists at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Baylor College of Medicine have called for the removal of legal restrictions that prohibit adolescents from joining studies for HIV and similar sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Currently, parental permission is not ethically required for adolescents to participate in STI and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis studies. Some say this permission could serve to counteract public health interests if it continues.

This is important because 26 percent of new American HIV infections are detected in people between the ages of 13 and 24. Of these infections, 72 percent are found in gay and bisexual young men.

The published paper outlines ethical, legal and policy issues pertaining to adolescents being involved in STI- and HIV-prevention research within the U.S. It also discusses strategies that will improve the access that adolescents have to such studies.

The study authors recommend two strategies.

"First, in states with existing minor-consent provisions for STI treatment that do not expressly include prevention, we urge public-health advocates and officials to partner with state legislators to promote amendments to minor-consent statutes that would explicitly authorize minors to consent to preventive care related to STIs, including HIV," the authors wrote. "There is little reason to believe that legislators craft treatment-focused state laws to exclude prevention.”

Secondly, the scientists recommend that institutional boards accept a new, open mindset for claims about the term “treatment,” especially in the case of minor-consent laws.

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