UHLC guest lecturer says child donor unable to consent

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Dr. Samuel J. Tilden discussed the “Ethical and Legal Aspects of Using an Identical Twin as a Skin Transplant Donor for a Severely Burned Minor” as part of the Children’s Health and the Law Guest Lecture Series hosted by the Law Center’s Health Law and Policy Institute.

Nov. 7, 2011 – Using a child as a transplant donor, even if she agreed to help her identical twin sister, is not justified unless the transplant would save the recipient's life, a doctor and research expert told University of Houston Law Center students.

Samuel J. Tilden, M.D., J.D., LL.M., discussed the “Ethical and Legal Aspects of Using an Identical Twin as a Skin Transplant Donor for a Severely Burned Minor” as part of the Children’s Health and the Law Guest Lecture Series hosted by the Law Center’s Health Law and Policy Institute.

On Jan. 7, 2003, Sydney Cowan, a healthy 6-year-old girl, underwent skin harvesting, specifically to be used for her badly burned sister. A day earlier, the probate court of Jefferson County, AL., authorized her parents to approve the surgery.

“Such a case is indeed a rarity and a true ethical dilemma,” Tilden said. “The court specifically addressed whether Sydney could undergo surgical procedures that provided her with no physical benefit, but, rather, resulted in harmful effects. While it is a close call, we have to take into consideration acute postoperative pain and potential long-term emotional and psychological dysfunction. ”

In this case, Sydney gave her assent to having the procedure done to help her sister, but Tilden questioned the validity of a 6-year-old’s decisional capacity. “Due to the gravity of the situation, this is simply outside the realm of a 6-year-old child’s understanding,” Tilden said

Tilden, who holds an LL.M. from the University of Houston Law Center, is a former research compliance office, deputy provost for Human Subjects Research, and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He is also a former chairman of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Human Research Protections.

To read Tilden’s article “Ethical and Legal Aspects of Using an Identical Twin as a Skin Transplant Donor for a Severely Burned Minor,” click here.

For more information about future guests of the lecture series, visit www.law.uh.edu/healthlaw.

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