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China's struggle for practical regulations in medical ethics


The introduction of ethical regulations in medicine in China might seem at odds with the country's social and moral reality. Chinese bioethicists find themselves torn between the necessity to re-create a fully-fledged modern health-care system and aspirations to become global players in the biomedical sciences. The result is a top-down approach in medical ethics, created on behalf of the people. Despite its introduction, there are concerns about whether China is prepared to embrace the standards it claims to have adopted.

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Among the many Chinese colleagues whose support deserves acknowledgement, I am particularly indebted to Q. Renzong and Y. Huanming, for their continued encouragment and advice. Special gratitude goes to P. U. Unschuld and H. Roetz. This work would not have been possible without the grants from the Helmut Storz Foundation.

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A tendency for 'Western' bioethics to become excessively technical and legal. Philosophers and cultural scientists have argued that respect for values, symbols and social meaningfulness of medicine and ethics in different societies requires making principles that are practical in those societies.


A trend in 'Western' bioethics towards an ethics of convenience, which does not acknowledge the historical context of individual communities.


This political principle and philosophical concept means either self-determination (in the libertarian sense) or self-governance (in the sense of deontological or duty-based ethics). Both interpretations are found in contemporary medical ethics. The libertarian understanding dominates in the Anglo–American mainstream, whereas the deontological concept seems more influential among continental European and Chinese ethicists.


A school of moral and political philosophy in China and Southeast Asia, dating back to the teachings of Master Kong (Kong Fuzi, 551–479 BC). It highlights individual moral responsibility and self-cultivation, with an emphasis on obligations to society and strategies of conflict management.


An ethical approach in medical ethics that attempts to understand people in relation to their relevant cultural, socio-economic, political and cultural milieu.


Unlike principles prescribing moral uniformity, universal principles are a set of normative conditions according to which a diversity of moral cultures can flourish and express themselves in peaceful and sustainable ways.

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Döring, O. China's struggle for practical regulations in medical ethics. Nat Rev Genet 4, 233–239 (2003).

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