The large grey area between ‘bona fide’ and ‘rogue’ stem cell interventions — ethical acceptability and the need to include local variability

Sleeboom-Faulkner, Margaret (2016) The large grey area between ‘bona fide’ and ‘rogue’ stem cell interventions — ethical acceptability and the need to include local variability. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 109 (August). pp. 76-86. ISSN 0040-1625

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This article aims to put into perspective the binary opposition between ‘scientific’ clinical research trials and ‘rogue’ experimental stem cell therapies, and to show why the ethics criteria used by the dominant science community are not suitable for distinguishing between adequate and inadequate treatments. By focusing on the grey area between clinical stem cell trials and stem cell experimentation, the experimental space where patients, medical professionals and life scientists negotiate for diverging reasons and aims, I show why idealised notions of ethics are not feasible for many stem cell scientists in low- and middle-income countries.

Drawing on fieldwork in China from 2012 to 2013, the article asks why ‘the unethical’ according to some is acceptable to Chinese life scientists. The case study of stem cell service provider Beike Biotech illustrates how stem cell interventions take place in a large grey area, where narrow notions of ethics are blurred with and supplanted by broader notions of ethics, co-determined by estimations of socio-economic, political and cultural understandings of risk, opportunity and benefit.

I borrow the term ‘bionetworking’, understood as the entrepreneurial aspects of scientific networks that engage in creating biomedical products, to analyse various forms of medical experimentation. I speak of the ‘externalisation’ and ‘internalisation’ of local factors to elucidate how features of patient populations and their environments are subsumed in clinical research applications. Compared to polarised views of stem cell therapy, this approach increases the transparency of clinical interventions and broadens our understanding of why ‘stem cell tourism’ to some is ‘stem cell therapy’ to others.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Depositing User: Sharon Krummel
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2016 12:36
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 17:16

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Bionetworking in Asia - A social science approach to international collaboration, informal exchanges, and responsible innovation in the life sciencesG0812EUROPEAN UNION283219
Bionetworking in Asia - International collaboration, exchange, and responsible innovation in the life sciencesG0750ESRC-ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCILES/I018107/1