From global bioethics to ethical governance of biomedical research collaborations

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Dec;98:293-300. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.03.041. Epub 2013 Apr 3.

Abstract

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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Biomedical Research / ethics*
  • Biomedical Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • China
  • Ethical Review / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Interprofessional Relations / ethics
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics