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Tue, Aug 29, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Genes, ethics and Aborigines

As Taiwan begins collecting samples to create a DNA database, scientists are facing criticism over the methods they have used to obtain blood from Aborigines - blood that is now highly valued for research projects

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Taiwan should legislate to the effect that genome researchers may not apply for patents for their research results," said lawmaker Tsai.

Chen also pointed out that the Philippines, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, and Venezuela -- where Aborigines constitute the majority of citizens -- have adopted laws monitoring the acquisition of genetic resources.

But there is no related legislation in Taiwan. The only related law is the Medical Treatment Law (醫療法) which is overseen by the Department of Health (DOH). The law stipulates that any medical research upon the human body should be approved by the DOH before implementation.

"This law, however, fails to regulate researchers mainly because of its limited definition," said Lin Chin-fen (林慶豐), a DOH official responsible for Aboriginal issues.

"Researchers argued that genome research was not research upon the human body," Lin said, adding, "Few researchers informed the DOH before they conducted health checks and drew blood from Aborigines."

The DOH's position within the government's hierarchy is another hindrance to the monitoring of this kind of genome research, Lin added.

Academia Sinica, the National Science Council and National Health Research Institute are the main institutions involved in genome research. "But the DOH's seniority within government is no higher than that of these organizations, which presents difficulties for it in its monitoring role."

"The DOH has suggested that the government organize a Cabinet-level ad hoc committee and incorporate an ethical protocol into legislation relating to research," Lin said. "The existing Medical Treatment Law should be expanded to cover genetic research and other research related to people."

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