Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Transplant Studies Execute “Ethics Dump”

By Guy Nolch

The organs of executed Chinese prisoners have been widely used to bypass ethical guidelines restricting Western researchers.

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The spectre of the “mad scientist” raised its ugly head last November when Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology announced the birth of the first human babies whose genomes had been edited at the embryonic stage of development. The university claimed to have no knowledge of He’s project, which had been conducted off-campus, and fired him, while Chinese authorities described He’s work as “extremely abominable in nature” and “guarded” him at his home 24/7.

International condemnation of the regulation of Chinese medical research was quick, even though He’s collaborators had included US scientists and others who had known what was going on but had turned a blind eye. For instance, Prof Michael Deem of Rice University was the senior author of a paper submitted about the research to Nature, while He had shared news of his progress with Nobel Laureate Prof Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts in an email titled “Success!”.

Not only didn’t these and other scientists raise concerns, but several scientists have defended human germline interventions or announced their own research aspirations. For instance, Dr Werner Neuhausser of Harvard University has announced plans to edit the DNA inside sperm cells.

Such controversial research can be blocked in more regulated jurisdictions if they don’t adhere to...

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