On a mission to address the ethical challenges presented by the rapidly advancing fields of science and technology, Chinese authorities released a set of groundbreaking pilot measures. These measures aim to establish ethical guidelines and standards for various scientific and technological activities. As we witness a new wave of scientific and technological revolutions, accompanied by industrial transformations, ethical concerns have emerged as a global issue. In collaboration with nine other government departments, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology unveiled these comprehensive review measures to tackle problems such as unclear responsibilities and the absence of universal ethical standards.
The Need for Ethical Guidelines
In an era marked by unprecedented advancements in science and technology, ethical considerations are vital. The new measures recognize that ethical issues encompass a wide range of activities and applications, from research involving human participants to the use of laboratory animals and even scientific endeavors that, while not directly involving humans or animals, pose ethical risks in areas such as life, health, ecology, public order, and sustainable development.
Key Provisions of the Pilot Measures
The pilot measures introduce a set of key provisions designed to improve the ethical review system, standardize procedures, set strict ethical standards, and enhance supervision. These provisions define the scope of ethical reviews, outline responsible entities for ethical evaluations, establish criteria for science and technology ethics committees, and specify organizational and operational mechanisms. Additionally, they delineate basic procedures for ethical reviews and establish content and standards for these reviews.
- Scope of Ethical Reviews
The pilot measures categorically state that scientific and technological activities involving human participants, including research activities such as testing, surveys, and observations using humans as research subjects, must undergo ethical review according to the guidelines. Similarly, scientific activities that involve human biological samples and personal information data fall under the purview of ethical review. Furthermore, any scientific and technological activities involving laboratory animals must also undergo ethical evaluation.
- Extended Ethical Considerations
Recognizing the complexity of contemporary science and technology, the pilot measures include provisions for activities that do not directly involve humans or laboratory animals but may pose ethical risks and challenges in various domains. These domains encompass life, health, ecological environment, public order, and sustainable development. This approach reflects a broader understanding of ethics and its relevance in shaping responsible technological progress.
- Specialized Review Committees
Institutions and units engaged in scientific activities within fields such as life sciences, medicine, and artificial intelligence that touch upon sensitive areas of science and technology ethics must establish dedicated review committees on scientific and technological ethics. These committees play a crucial role in ensuring the fairness and legality of recruitment programs, the collection, storage, use, and disposal of biological samples, and the processing of personal privacy data and biometric information.
Moreover, these committees are tasked with safeguarding the legal rights and interests of research participants, including compensation, injury treatment, and protection of vulnerable groups. In the case of scientific and technological activities involving laboratory animals, these committees adhere to the principles of replacement, reduction, and refinement while ensuring the lawful and humane treatment of animals in accordance with animal welfare standards.
- Data and Algorithm Ethics
The pilot measures also address the rapidly evolving landscape of data and algorithms in scientific and technological activities. They require that data-related activities, including collection, storage, processing, and use, adhere to relevant national regulations on data security and the protection of personal information. Furthermore, research and development in new data technologies must also comply with these regulations.
In the realm of algorithms, models, and systems, the measures emphasize principles such as fairness, justice, transparency, reliability, and controllability, aligning with national requirements. These principles are essential to ensure that technology-driven solutions and systems meet ethical standards.
- Identifying High Ethical Risk Activities
Recognizing that certain scientific and technological activities carry greater ethical risk and challenges, the pilot measures outline a list of such endeavors that require expert reevaluation. These activities include:
- Synthetic creation of new species with significant implications for human life, health, and ecology.
- Research involving the introduction of human stem cells into animal embryos or fetuses, followed by gestation in an animal uterus.
- Basic research involving the alteration of genetic material or genetic characteristics of human germ cells, fertilized eggs, and pre-implantation embryos.
- Clinical research on invasive brain-machine interfaces for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders.
- Development of human-machine fusion systems with a substantial impact on human subjective behaviors, psychological emotions, and overall health.
This list will be dynamically adjusted to accommodate emerging ethical challenges as the field of science and technology continues to evolve.
China’s pilot measures for science and technology ethics represent a significant step towards addressing the ethical implications of rapid technological advancement. With comprehensive guidelines covering a wide range of scientific and technological activities, these measures aim to promote responsible and ethical practices in research and development. As the global community grapples with the ethical challenges posed by cutting-edge technologies, these measures serve as an important example of proactive governance and ethical oversight.