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Parents' Online Portrayals of Pediatric Treatment and Research Options

Rebecca Schaffer, Gail E. Henderson, Larry R. Churchill, Nancy M. P. King, Barbra B. Rothschild, Sara Lohser and Arlene M. Davis
Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics: An International Journal
Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 2009), pp. 73-87
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
DOI: 10.1525/jer.2009.4.3.73
Stable URL:
Page Count: 16
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Parents' Online Portrayals of Pediatric Treatment and Research Options
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PARENTS OF SERIOUSLY ILL CHILDREN FACE difficult decisions when standard therapies are limited or ineffective. In their search for information, they may turn to websites created by other parents facing similar experiences. We conducted a qualitative content analysis of 21 websites created by families with children affected by cancer or genetic disease, two serious conditions with a range of treatment and clinical trial options. Our research questions address how parent authors portray serious pediatric illness, available options, parties to decision making, and sources of influence. In addition, we examine what these sites reveal about family vulnerability to various risks, particularly the risk of misunderstanding the distinction between standard treatment and research and the risk of overestimating the likely benefits of research participation, as well as whether vulnerability varies by type of condition. Our results demonstrate typically favorable views on research, but with inadequate distinctions between research and treatment and a complex set of trade-offs in consideration of research risks and potential benefits. While portraits of vulnerability emerge for both parents and children, so do portraits of strength and resilience. As a result, parents describe frustration with both under- and overprotection from research participation. Our discussion of these findings clarifies the potential for parent-authored websites to inform and influence families considering research and treatment options for their seriously ill children.

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