February 29, 2024

Chinese scientists ignoring informed consent procedures

Chinese medical researchers often ignore basic standards of ethical oversight in their rush to conduct experiments. A report in the leading journal Nature claims that awareness of ethical regulations and informed-consent procedures is "alarmingly low" and that some institutional review boards do little more than rubber-stamp proposals. China has enormous health problems, ranging from infectious diseases to "lifestyle" diseases like obesity, but this also represents an opportunity for researchers eager to do clinical work and for drug companies interested in expanding their markets. Furthermore, says Nature, given the urgency of finding cures for diseases like HIV/AIDS, even supporters of tighter ethical standards have been willing to cut corners.


Participants in some trials told Nature that they had signed informed consent forms which they could not understand, that doctors made no effort to explain them, that they had to pay for copies of the consent forms, and that they were not informed of the results of trials’ results. Few scientists in China have training in bioethics or in running ethics committees. And it is not easy to reform the situation, as tightening the screws in one institution simply encourages researchers to go elsewhere. Journals do not help to enforce ethical standards either. "Most journals in China give no consideration to ethical matters," says one editor. "But if we followed international practice seriously, we would receive very few papers."