We argue that the current ethical and regulatory framework for permissible risk levels in pediatric research can be helpfully understood in terms of children’s moral right to adequate protection from harm. Our analysis provides a rationale for what we propose as the highest level of permissible risk in pediatric research without the prospect of direct benefit: what we call “relatively minor” risk. We clarify the justification behind the usual standards of “minimal risk” and “a minor increase over minimal risk” and explain why it is permissible to impose any risks at all on child participants who do not stand to benefit directly from enrollment in research. Finally, we illuminate some aspects of the concept of “best interests.”

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