While other countries debated questions of ethics dealing with genetic engineering and research, China has been seen as a country which welcomed any type of genetic research with no questions asked. However, this previously held belief is changing. On October 1, 2003, new regulations took affect in China banning human cloning and placing new controls on genetic experimentation of human eggs and sperm for fertility purposes. The new laws also make for profit trading of human eggs and sperm an illegal act.
The actual effects of the new regulations will not immediately be known since they will largely depend on how stringently the Chinese government upholds the laws. For example, approximately two years ago, China’s Ministry of Health announced an official ban of all commercial trading of human eggs and sperm. However, this rule has largely been ignored and has not been enforced. Significant numbers of fertility clinics and some hospitals have been collecting, storing, and selling human eggs and sperm without obtaining government approvals or licenses.
The reason for China’s sudden interest in regulating genetic research is largely due to the government’s concern of becoming a “legal loophole” for the genetic research community worldwide. Without official regulations, the Chinese government would be helpless to control the type of research occurring within its borders. Foreign scientists wishing to avoid legal restrictions in their own country may choose to conduct ethically sensitive testing in China. By implementing the new regulations, China has effectively placed official legal boundaries on genetics research.
Chen Xigu, a scientist in Guangzhou comments, “This is good for the long-term development of this scientific field. Otherwise, it’s possible there could be a disaster before we figured out how this science can benefit mankind.”