Ethical, legal, and social issues: our children's future

Neurotoxicology. 2005 Aug;26(4):521-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2004.12.006. Epub 2005 Jan 21.


A convergence of issues suggests that protecting child health is not so much a matter of research, but rather a matter of policy and advocacy. First, we have well-articulated views of a vision for child health. Second, we have experience and toxicological research findings demonstrating the adverse health effects of hazardous chemicals on children and recognize that children are more sensitive than adults to chemical exposures. Results from toxicology research have motivated many regulatory and legal actions, and public policy decisions, including the banning of some pesticides, reducing exposures in the workplace, and lowering of acceptable blood lead levels in children. We also know that childhood disabilities from chemical exposure during developmental are often not treatable and therefore must be prevented. Finally, we have an increasingly well-defined framework for discussing social and ethical responsibility to our children. New discoveries in the basic biological and toxicological sciences have challenged our bioethical thinking and societal decision-making. This paper will explore the ethical, legal, and social issues raised by the toxicological sciences first by examining some hard lesson learned about childhood effects of chemicals and then by examining the difficult policy and research decisions that must be made as we address our need for additional information about the health effects of chemicals on adults and children and the impact of having this information. The precautionary principle will be considered as an alternative decision-making approach as well as exploring the concept of the citizen toxicologist (CT). As Garrett Hardin pointed out many years ago, the problems we face often have no technical solutions, but rather require a policy-based approach. This paper will be of interest to the public and health professionals concerned about the broader impact of toxicological research on bioethical and societal decision-making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Welfare / ethics*
  • Child*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Public Policy*
  • Toxicology / ethics*