The article about efforts to restart the Taiwan Biobank frames Aboriginal people's objections in vague terms of "doubts and anger regarding the plan" or "fears" of abuse, and stigmatization ("Conference ponders a new `Taiwanese Biobank,'" April 2, page 2).
However, Aboriginal objections have a strong basis given the scandalous record of genetics research abuses committed against Taiwanese Aborigines, and the Biobank's illegality.
Firstly, Aboriginal people are right to question scientists' ethics, especially given how Taiwanese scientists, including some from Academia Sinica, which proposed the Biobank, have with impunity committed many thousands of violations of informed consent protocols in obtaining samples from Aborigines ("Genes, ethics and Aborigines," Aug. 29, 2000, page 2).
If we consider how researchers have sought to exploit the often poor provision of health care in Aboriginal areas through the exchange of (frequently fraudulent) health checkups for blood samples and information, then proposals that Aborigines (and other donors) might benefit from commercial use of their genes similarly seeks to exploit Aboriginal peoples' poverty.
Second, researchers with their positivist conceptions of alcoholism as an interaction of biology and environment have already stigmatized Aborigines as genetically predisposed to alcoholism, arguably a new form of racism as it in part attributes social phenomena to genetics. This has occurred despite research conducted from 1949 to 1953 indicating alcoholism rates of zero to 0.16 percent. This evidence clearly situates the emergence of Aboriginal alcoholism problems in the context of the massive social upheavals inflicted by colonialism.
However, researchers involved in Academia Sinica's Taiwan Aboriginal Study Project view such colonialism as "natural." For example, they stated in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: "The vivid ethnic and sociocultural diversity and the different levels of rapid acculturation among Formosan Aboriginal groups provides an invaluable natural setting to examine the relationship between biological [ie, genetic] and sociocultural factors and psychological health" (Cheng Tai-an and Chen WJ, 1995).
In a more recent example, the Aboriginal Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉) sharply criticized an October 2005 Taiwan Aboriginal Study Project report and subsequent media coverage which included the familiar claim that Aborigines are predisposed to alcoholism under conditions of rapid social change because 99 percent have genetics that allowed them to metabolize alcohol better than many Han settlers.
An Oct. 11, 2005, Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) article on this report, which was subsequently translated into English by the Central News Agency with the title "Being able to hold drinks is all in the genes," ridiculed Aborigines by claiming they are genetically empowered drinkers.
Third, the Taiwan Biobank is already illegal, as it was conceived and planned without proper Aboriginal consultation and therefore violates Article 21 of the Aboriginal Basic Law (
The Taiwan Biobank cannot be reformed and must be stopped, because the evidence suggests that to do otherwise would reinforce emerging forms of anti-Aboriginal racism and lead to further violations of Aboriginal rights and dignity.