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The Division of the Ethics of Embryo Research in China and the West

Over the last few decades, the work China has done in the field of biomedicine has provided many different breakthroughs and revelations that would otherwise have gone undiscovered. China has spent billions of dollars to build new laboratories and train new scientists in an effort to become the world’s leader in this field of study. As their research and studies get more and more advanced, however, they begin to reach a breaking point. From a Western point of view, scientists in China are appearing to cross the dangerous ethical boundary of experimenting on human embryos as scientists have become increasingly invested in dissecting and editing the human genome.

The top research universities in China, over the past few years, have begun developing systems to edit the human genome and publishing scientific articles cataloging their findings. For example, while not currently operational, the technology developed at the Sun Yat-sen University is aimed to eliminate inheritable illnesses in the womb. In addition, minor traits such as hair and eye color will have the potential to be manipulated, as will anything encoded in genes

While in theory, the technology ultimately developed sounds great, the path traveled to develop it is gruesome in the eyes of some. The researchers at the Sun Yat-sen University, led by Dr. Huang Junjiu ran an experiment where they aimed to modify the genes of an embryo to cure a blood disorder. 85 of the embryos experimented on were deemed failures as the disorder either persisted or the experiment made the embryo unusable.

When this information reached the global scientific community, it was deemed shocking and offensive. Traditionally in western countries such as America and
Canada, the ethics and legislation regarding research using embryos for experiments are generally prohibitive. While there is a vocal minority who support potentially destructive tests on embryos, a large portion of both the scientific community and public deem it immoral and unethical. There is generally a sense that the current stages of technological capabilities are too risky and unpredictable to be used in such a sensitive setting. Overall, the Western scientific community agrees that now is not the optimal time to begin redefining the ethical line when considering using embryos for research purposes.

China, however, has a largely different view on the ethics regarding embryo research. In general, scientists in China are greatly in favor of using embryos for research purposes. They seem to believe that the potential benefits that are a result of these research methods outweigh the possibility of overstepping an ethical
boundary. Even more concerning for the global scientific community, an ever increasing amount of time is devoted to studies in these areas. This has resulted in an inability for any form of international agency to place restrictive laws moderating the research done.

The difference in weight ethics has in dictating scientific research has its reason for existing entrenched in history, especially in the area of embryo research. The teachings of China are largely based on Confucian teachings, where it is stated that you are not considered a person until you are born. This greatly differs from the Christian teaching that you are considered a person immediately after conception. This leads to scientists themselves having a radically different approach to research regarding human life. In addition to scientists feeling differently, the government generally stays out of the affairs regarding embryo research. Since 2003, an embryo that is younger than 14 days is legally not a person.

Overall, Chinese scientists are fighting back against the standards of ethics set by western researchers They believe that, considering their culture defines embryos as non-people, they have the right to perform their research on them. This has resulted in an avalanche of research performed in these settings, much to the shock of the international scientific community. In Chinas pursuit to becoming a global leader in biomedical science and technology, they have overstepped what many in the west believe to be ethical boundaries. Due to the rapidly increasing rate of money being put towards the research infrastructure, little can be done to prevent China from changing course.