One of the features of advanced life sciences research in recent years has been its internationalisation, with countries such as China and South Korea considered 'emerging biotech' locations. As a result, cross-continental collaborations are becoming common generating moves towards ethical and legal standardisation under the rubric of 'global bioethics'. Such a 'global', 'Western' or 'universal' bioethics has in turn been critiqued as an imposition upon resource-poor, non-Western or local medical settings. In this article, we propose that a different tack is necessary if we are to come to grips with the ethical challenges that inter-continental biomedical research collaborations generate. In particular we ask how national systems of ethical governance of life science research might cope with increasingly global research collaborations with a focus on Sino-European collaboration. We propose four 'spheres' - deliberation, regulation, oversight and interaction - as a helpful way to conceptualise national systems of ethical governance. Using a workshop-based mapping methodology (workshops held in Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Xian, Shenzen and London) we identified three specific ethical challenges arising from cross-continental research collaborations: (1) ambiguity as to which regulations are applicable; (2) lack of ethical review capacity not only among ethical review board members but also collaborating scientists; (3) already complex, researcher-research subject interaction is further complicated when many nationalities are involved.
Keywords: Ethical governance; Europe; Global bioethics; Informed consent; People's Republic of China; Regulation; Research collaboration.
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