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Experts Start Framing Gene Research Laws
Chinese legislators are facing one of their biggest challenges -- the formulation of laws on human cloning, gene resources protection and biosafety.

"We are facing a lot of difficulties during our current legislative work, for example, in trying to strike a balance between ethical considerations and pioneering scientific research, and in respecting current international standards while taking into account the country's needs,'' said Zhu Lilan, a senior legislator with the National People's Congress.

Differences of opinion on the safety and the development of gene and cloning technology also add difficulty to legislative decisions.

"Yet no matter how complex the issues are, the legislation cannot wait, as it has a direct bearing on people's lives,'' Zhu said at a meeting of the city's biology and law experts Wednesday.

Experts called on the NPC to draft separate laws covering different issues instead of writing just one comprehensive law, and to give priority to the more urgent areas of legislation, such as laws governing the protection of gene resources.

China, one of the world's largest countries, has abundant plants, animals and human genes.

In recent years, some foreign businesses and research institutes, in the name of giving free blood tests to the Chinese people, collected a lot of blood samples.

The experts also called for an immediate creation of a committee to deal with ethical issues.

Comprised of experts in science and philosophy, the committee should monitor life sciences research such as that on human cloning and stem-cells, and see to it that the work is guided by a clearly codified set of ethical principles.

Shanghai and some other cities have set up ethical committees in universities, research institutes and hospitals, but many of them have no real power.

"The legislation is not to restrain scientific research, but to provide a standardized and better environment for scientific research,'' Zhu said.

China was part of the six-nation team that successfully constructed the draft sequence of the entire human genome in February last year. The other five countries involved were the United States, Britain, Japan, France and Germany.

China finished 1 per cent of the sequence map.

According to existing regulations, the country do not endorse, permit, support or accept reproductive human cloning under any condition.

(China Daily April 18, 2002)

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