Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis Ethical debate

Gaining consent for publication in difficult cases involving children

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 08 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1231
  1. David Isaacs, paediatrician123,
  2. H A Kilham, paediatrician14,
  3. S Jacobe, paediatric intensivist5,
  4. Monique M Ryan, paediatric neurologist6,
  5. Bernadette Tobin, ethicist7
  1. 1Clinical Ethics Advisory Service, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia
  2. 2Department of Allergy, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital at Westmead
  3. 3University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
  4. 4Department of Medicine, Children’s Hospital at Westmead
  5. 5Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Children’s Hospital at Westmead
  6. 6Children’s Neurosciences Centre, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria 3052, Australia
  7. 7Plunkett Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: D Isaacs DavidI{at}

    Two years ago four paediatricians and an ethicist submitted to the BMJ a case study as an ethical debate which the BMJ decided not to publish because the authors had not obtained the consent of the patient’s parents for publication. The authors submitted it elsewhere, and the article was published last year.

    Here the authors explain why they think the BMJ should have published despite the lack of consent; the editor of the journal that did publish the case study explains why he did so (doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1233); and two members of the BMJ’s ethics committee explain why they recommended not to publish it (doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1232). An accompanying editorial explains why English law would now not allow the BMJ to publish it without consent, even if we thought it reasonable to do so.

    We recently wrote a case study on the treatment and care of an infant with spinal muscular atrophy type 1, an inherited disorder causing progressive muscle weakness without apparent intellectual impairment …

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