RESEARCH QUESTION: What ethical implications, issues and concerns play a role in conducting follow-up studies of children born after assisted reproductive technologies (ART)?
DESIGN: Literature study and relevant experiences of academic medical centres in Brussels, Belgium, and Maastricht, the Netherlands were used to identify and analyse the most pertinent ethical implications, issues and concerns.
RESULTS: According to recommendations from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, follow-up (ideally long term) of children conceived through medically assisted reproduction (MAR) should be an integral part of introducing new ART. With potentially risky new ART on the horizon, these recommendations need to be taken more seriously. Apart from practical barriers, such as funding, challenges for follow-up include securing active involvement of families of children conceived through MAR, starting with parents of young children, and ideally involving consenting adolescents and adults during a large part of their lives, possibly even into the next generation.
CONCLUSIONS: From an ethical viewpoint, the most pertinent issues include the proportionality of the inevitable burdens and risks for families of children conceived through MAR, and the implications of the principle of respect for autonomy. The proportionality requirement is most critical when it concerns incompetent children, who should not be included in research with more than minimal burdens and risks if there is no reasonable expectation of benefit for themselves. With respect for autonomy, we argue that, when seeking voluntary consent for participating in follow-up studies that meet the condition of proportionality, professionals may encourage members of families of children conceived through MAR to partake in follow-up research.