oa South African Journal of Bioethics and Law - Boni mores and consent for child research in South Africa
Consent is required for almost all health research. In order for consent to be valid a number of requirements must be met including that the consent cannot be contra bonos mores or contrary to public policy. This principle has its roots in the common law and it is used to ensure that the consent to harm, or the risk of harm, is permitted or ought to be permitted by the legal order. Recently, it has also become a statutory requirement embedded in the consent obligations relating to non-therapeutic health research with minors. Section 71 of the National Health Act provides that the Minister of Health (or potentially his or her delegated authority) must provide consent to non-therapeutic research with minors. However, such consent may not be granted if 'the reasons for the consent to the research or experimentation are contrary to public policy'. Limited work has been done on how to determine when consent to health research with children would be contrary to public policy.This article attempts to begin the debate by describing the boni mores principle, setting out some of the general factors that could be used to assess whether consent is consistent with it and suggesting how they could be applied to health research. The article concludes by stating that simply requiring proxy consent for non-therapeutic health research with children is insufficient as it cannot always be assumed that proxy consenters will act in the best interests of the child. Thus the boni mores principle acts as a limit on autonomy in order to protect the child participant. It is further submitted that establishing when consent to health research is consistent with public policy requires an assessment of whether the research is consistent with constitutional values, prevailing legal norms regarding children, and an assessment of the legal convictions of the community.
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