The proliferation of stem cell therapies in post-Mao China: Problematizing ethical regulation

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Thousands of foreign patients have sought experimental stem cell therapies in China since 2001. Despite critical scrutiny from scientific experts and tightening guidelines on the conduct of translational medicine, stem cell clinics have continued to proliferate in contemporary China. This article delves beyond regulatory exteriors to provide an ethnographic account of why unauthorized stem cell clinics targeting foreign clients have flourished under "socialism with Chinese characteristics." As the former emphasis on preventive care during Mao's era of collectivism has given way to a market-driven pursuit of high-tech interventions, changes in the political economy of healthcare have transformed China's urban medical system into a laboratory for entrepreneurial tactics. This article traces how medical entrepreneurs operate within and beyond the socialist market economy by co-opting public hospital facilities for private gain and capitalizing on the hope and hype over stem cell research to promote dubious procedures. Rather than producing biopolitical modes of governance, formal regulation in China often invites enterprising tactics and hybrid practices that ultimately remake the boundaries between public and private, as well as ethical and unethical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-153
Number of pages13
JournalNew Genetics and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Genetics
  • Health Policy


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