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The Bioethical Vacuum: national policies on human embryonic stem cell research in India and China

Authors: Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner and Prasanna Kumar Patra


Developing countries have sought to profit from the bioethical vacuum that has come about when President Bush in 2001 called for a moratorium on federal funding of human embryo stem cell research (hESR). Seizing the opportunity, both China and India started to invest proportionally many available resources in advanced technology and hESR, in the hope to achieve economic success. We argue
that for the following reasons this field is hazardous especially for large developing countries:

a. Capital resources are relatively important to poorer countries;

b. Lucrative applications are not guaranteed: losses are harder to compensate in countries with little surplus;

c. The benefits of possible profits may not go to the needy;

d. It may be harder for China and India to advance in these advanced fields
because of their institutional history in the field of science and technology;

e. Even if applications are successful, there is a chance of developing countries
becoming so-called techno-coolies: supplying standard advanced
technologies, using human resources that are rare elsewhere in the world;

f. A rush to grab the emerging opportunity obtained as a result of the bioethical
vacuum may lead to overlooking appropriate monitoring and regulatory
measures, hampering the formation of long term international collaborations
and public trust.

Secondly, we discuss government policies on the institutional aspects of hESR that have made China relatively attractive to foreign investors compared to India. In the concluding part, we discuss various dimensions of bioethics with regards to hESR, and how governing bodies mobilise cultural resources as economic capital.