“Ethics first” reform for medical research in China: from reactive to proactive

By Jingyi Xu, Zhongxuan Liu, Jiayou Shi, Yue Wang.

The 2018 CRISPR-babies incident, involving the controversial editing of human genomes, significantly impacted China’s approach to the ethics governance in medical research. The event underscored the need for a shift from a reactive, post hoc framework to a more proactive and anticipatory model. As a global leader in various fields of biomedicine research, China has recognized the importance of integrating ethical considerations at every level of the medical research process.

The adoption of an “Ethics first” policy marks a substantial shift in the governance of emerging technologies. This policy emphasizes the need for forward-looking and preventive governance, moving away from a model of delayed intervention. It mandates that all parties involved in medical research—from individual scientists to top leadership—operate in alignment with ethical principles.

However, despite the introduction of various policies and laws to enhance ethics governance in medical research, some current policies remain vague, with unclear implementation guidelines. To craft more practical regulations, Chinese bioethicists and ethical and legal scholars need to collaborate closely with the government. This collaboration should aim to overhaul the governance philosophy, refine both general and specific legislation, bolster ethics review and oversight mechanisms, provide legal recourse for unlawful practices, engage in broader dialogues, and advocate for enhanced global governance in medical research.


Paper: How should China set ethical guardrails for medical research?

Authors and affiliations:

Jingyi Xu: Department of Medical Ethics and Law, School of Health Humanities, Peking University, Beijing, China

Zhongxuan Liu: Law School, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Jiayou Shi: Law School, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China

Yue Wang: School of Health Humanities, Peking University, Beijing, China

Competing interests: None declared

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