A federal study will pay gay and transgender boys as young as 13 to report their sexual behavior on a mobile app without parental permission, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
National Institutes of Health-funded researchers at Columbia University offer up to $275 to gay and transgender boys 13 to 18 to document their sexual behavior — including ''condomless anal sex'' — on an app called MyPEEPS Mobile.
According to a government spending database, the NIH spent more than $300,000 to develop the app in 2012 and 2013, and $7.9 million since 2016 for researchers to study the collected data.
While researchers say MyPEEPS Mobile provides educational information for gay teens, some medical experts have raised ethical concerns.
''There is an ethical balance between investigators' desire to enroll children in a study and the need to support parents in caring for their children,'' Dr. Monique Wubbenhorst, former deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the Free Beacon.
''There are additional concerns that minor children in this study may be engaged in sexually exploitative relationships with older males, sex trafficking/child prostitution, violence and sexual abuse, from which they should be protected,'' she said.
A former member of the Duke University Health System Institutional Review Board, Wubbenhorst said that minors are vulnerable and are unable to give informed consent in research studies.
Department of Health and Human Services regulations require researchers to apply for a parental permission waiver for minors through designated institutional review boards, which determine if ''an appropriate mechanism for protecting the children who will participate as subjects in the research is substituted.''
Rebecca Schnall, the MyPEEPS study leader, said her team was able to obtain a parental permission waiver from the Columbia University review board because the study poses minimal risk to its subjects.
''If parental permission were sought, then our study participants may not be willing to participate in this study because they will fear their parents' knowledge of their sexuality and sexual activities,'' Schnall told the Free Beacon.
Dr. Aaron Rothstein, a fellow in bioethics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said he is surprised the Columbia researchers got a waiver, especially because the teenage participants were paid and traveled to attend group-based discussions.
''If parental consent is waived, there needs to be an appropriate mechanism in place to protect the minors,'' Rothstein told the Free Beacon.
This year, Columbia received an additional $340,000 for a study that focuses on transgender teenagers using MyPEEPS Mobile.
Schnall said there are no plans to make the app public, as it is used for research purposes only.
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