China vows research oversight after gene-editing scandal

China says it plans to establish a national committee to advise policy makers on research ethics regulations, in a move that comes in the midst of ongoing criticism of the country’s lax scientific research ethics standards. 

China’s most powerful policymaking body, the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, gave its approval to the plan to form a committee late last month. According to Chinese media, the committee will strengthen the coordination and implementation of a comprehensive and consistent system of ethics governance for science and technology.

The government has released few details on how the committee will work. But Qiu Renzong, a bioethicist at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, says it could help to reduce the fragmentation in biomedical ethics regulations across ministries, identify loopholes in the enforcement of regulations and advise the government on appropriate punishments for those who violate the rules. Qui suggested that the committee would perform a similar function to Britain’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 

The government announcement comes in the wake of an embryo gene editing scandal that made world headlines last year, in which a rogue embryologist implanted gene-edited embryos into the uteruses of women after allegedly faking ethics approval. 

Experts say that current legal regulations surrounding the status of embryonic life are vague and inconsistent. University of Macau academic Vera Lucia Raposo argues in a new article that the lack of legal precedent in Chinese courts could result in contradictory resolutions on the moral and legal status of embryos. The law should clarify the legal status of embryos and foetuses and accord to prenatal life special respect and treatment, Raposo suggests.

Xavier Symons is deputy editor of BioEdge 

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | china, gene editing, he jiankui, research ethics

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