Conflict of Interest in Scientific Research in China: A Socio-ethical Analysis of He Jiankui’s Human Genome-editing Experiment

Abstract

Extensive conflicts of interest (COI) at both individual and institutional levels are identifiable in scientific research and healthcare in China, as in many other parts of the world. A prominent new case from China is He Jiankui’s experiment that produced the world’s first gene-edited babies and that raises numerous ethical, political, socio-cultural, and transnational questions. Serious financial and other COI were involved in He’s genetic adventure. Using He’s infamous experiment as a case study, this paper explores the wider issue of financial and other COI in scientific research and healthcare in China, especially institutional conflict of interest (ICOI) and policy-related COI. Taking a socio-ethical perspective, it examines China’s state policies and its massive efforts to transform and commercialize scientific research, the lack of policies and oversight mechanisms for regulating COI, as well as major ethical issues arising from COI including the undermining of public trust. Some practical suggestions are offered for institutional reform and institutional development so that COI, particularly ICOI, can be avoided or more effectively managed in scientific research in China.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Professor Ian Kerridge and Ms Miriam Wiersma for their invitation and generous support. We also thank two anonymous reviewers of the JBI for their positive comments and helpful advice on the initially submitted version. Dr Paul Sorrell’s able professional editing is highly appreciated too. This paper was revised and finalized when one of us (Nie) was a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, United Kingdom.

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Nie, JB., Xie, G., Chen, H. et al. Conflict of Interest in Scientific Research in China: A Socio-ethical Analysis of He Jiankui’s Human Genome-editing Experiment. Bioethical Inquiry 17, 191–201 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-09978-7

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Keywords

  • Conflict of interest
  • Research ethics
  • Human genome editing
  • Science policy
  • Scientific integrity
  • China