Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ethics: China already has clear stem-cell guidelines

SIR — As scientists and ethicists who care about stem-cell research in China, we disagree with the statement in your News story “Panel clarifies stem-cell rules” (Nature 440, 9; 2006) that “China lacks clear national policies, with different institutes following different rules”.

In fact, China’s government has issued several guidelines to regulate human stemcell research. These include guidelines on human assisted-reproductive technologies, issued by the Ministry of Health in July 2003, and ethical guidelines for research on human embryonic stem cells, jointly issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health in December 2003. Both explicitly prohibit human reproductive cloning, and the latter is similar in principle to the guidelines proposed by the US National Academies (

It is true that national policies on human stem-cell research in China are not laws. With some further improvement, however, we think they are adequate, as nearly all scientific research in China relies on government funding. There have been cases in China where a few medical practitioners have used human fetal tissues or cells to treat patients, without required government approvals or appropriate clinical trials. We believe that this practice is against commonly accepted principles of modern scientific research.

Infringements are a matter of law enforcement against unapproved medical practices, as in any lawful and civilized country, and should not be viewed as unethical examples of human stem-cell research in China.

Linzhao Cheng
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 733
North Broadway, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA
Other signatories of this letter:
Ren-Zong Qiu Center for Bioethics, Peking Union Medical College, China
Hongkui Deng Peking University College of Life Sciences, Beijing, China
Yu Alex Zhang Capital University of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China
Ying Jin Institute of Health Sciences, Shanghai, China
Lingsong Li Peking University Stem Cell Center, Beijing, China

NATUREVol 44020 April 2006

China targets sex-selective abortions

(AP)Updated: 2006-08-02 11:01

A Chinese family planning official has said the government will still punish people who intentionally abort baby girls even though the legislature decided in June not to make it a crime, state media reports.
The Xinhua News Agency quoted Zhang Weiqing, an official with the State Commission for Population and Family Planning, as saying that the government would continue to prosecute institutions and individuals involved in illegal sex-selective abortions.
Xinhua said late Tuesday that the government has prosecuted 3,000 cases of fetus gender identification and selective abortions for non-medical reasons over the past two years, without giving details.
China does not currently outlaw abortions to select a child's gender. However, a family planning regulation prohibits the practice except for medical reasons. The regulation does not spell out punishments.
A three-decade-old policy limiting most couples to one child has made abortion a widely used method for controlling family size.
As a result, and due to a traditional preferences for sons, China faces a growing population imbalance, with many more boys than girls.
In China 113 boys are born for every 100 girls, while globally the average ratio is about 105 boys to 100 girls.
In June, China's legislature scrapped an amendment to the criminal law that would have banned abortions based on the sex of the fetus.
Xinhua said that some lawmakers argued that it would be too difficult to collect evidence for prosecution and that pregnant women should have the right to know the gender of their unborn child.
Family planning experts and some legislators have argued that the lack of clear criminal penalties has encouraged the use of abortions by families who want a son.

Modern China needs some old thinking

By You Nuo (China Daily)

Updated: 2006-07-31 05:32

Some readers wrote to me after my column was published two weeks ago about introducing some traditional wisdom into the curriculum of Chinese schools of business administration.
Apart from debating how the modern Chinese should define what exactly their traditional wisdom is, there are also those who challenged the need. Confucianism, which most Chinese agree forms the main body of the nation's traditional moral teaching, is irrelevant to modern business, they said.
Three points were raised. One was that Confucianism is very old, a creation of some 2,500 years ago, a time when people had no idea about what modern business would be like.
The second point was that Confucius, who ran China's very first school for commoners, in fact never told his students how to run a business. He never even used word "management."
The third point was that for the past 2,500 years, Confucian teachings never seemed to help China develop its economy, never mind one based mainly on industry and services.
These are frequent arguments that people make when discussing the significance of traditional wisdom, Confucianism in particular, in China today. However, the fact that people continue to argue about it is enough evidence of the lasting influence Confucianism has on this society.
Despite all the scorn poured on the opening of classes in Confucianism in some top Chinese business schools, they did attract an audience and considerable tuition payments. According to media reports, some of the attendees were quite successful private entrepreneurs.
Whether those financially successful people are really serious about brushing up their moral education is not the major issue here. The key is that there is much more discussion of Confucianism in today's China. It is a debate that will probably continue for a very long time.
But this is nothing strange. Confucianism is something very Chinese and irreplaceable in this society. It is not science, or anything from which an analytical model can be developed. However, it is the main part of this society's moral tradition, or how people tell right from wrong.
No society can afford to build an economy without a moral foundation. It is hard to imagine millions of people selling and buying from each other everyday without sharing a basic, although often tacit, agreement of how a good business person should behave.
It should also be pointed out that Confucianism is not old or irrelevant. The first reason for which a righteous person should make self-criticism of himself, as dictated by the Analects, is when he has compromised his credit, or failed to honour his word, in dealing with others.
Of course, a moral system is not something with which people invent things. Engineers did not have to refer to the Analects as they worked, as in Ming Dynasty, on their ocean-going ships to Africa, just as engineers are working on China's space programme.
Yet a moral system does offer immense help to an economy, and more so to a transitional economy. When the rule of law is weak, and many rules that were made in the era of the planned economy are obsolete, a return to traditional teachings is a natural choice for many people.
Admittedly, there is no such expression as management in Confucian teachings, just as there is no such expression as competition in the old guidebook for almost every business person in China, the famous Art of War by Sun Tzu. But people will gain from these old texts when they combine them with their own experiences.
(China Daily 07/31/2006 page4)