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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsOn the Origins of Research Ethics: China and the West – Blog (Craig Klugman, Ph.D July 2015)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

On the Origins of Research Ethics: China and the West – Blog (Craig Klugman, Ph.D July 2015)

Published/Released on July 16, 2015 | Posted by Admin on December 4, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,

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When I was a graduate student, I was fortunate to be one of five students chosen by the China Medical Board to attend an international bioethics conference between the U.S. and China in Beijing. We listened to talks on the philosophical bases of ethics in each country and culture. The U.S. laid its philosophical history on the doorsteps of the ancient Greek traditions such as Plato and Aristotle as well as later European thinkers such as Kant, Mill, and Bentham. The Chinese delegates talked of Confucius and Lao Tzu. We toured a hospital and a medical school. I still have a black plastic plate with the image of the medical college drawn in a gold color that was a gift to us guests.

I was assigned to a break out session where both countries were supposed to talk about values of medical ethics in the hopes of crafting an international and intercultural code of medical ethics. As a graduate student I asked the too-wise-for-my-britches question, “How can we create an international code of ethics when we are only two countries?” I was quickly quieted as the chair, an illustrious scholar, said, “Privacy. We can agree that privacy is important, correct.” There was a lot of chatter and head nodding. Another American student sitting next to me, whispered in my ear, “I don’t know all of what they said in Chinese, but the last part was, ‘Don’t translate this for the Americans’.” The interpreter then said out loud, “Yes, we can agree to privacy.”

Two days later at the closing ceremony, a written document was placed before the head of each delegation. A list of agreed upon values and ideas was read to the audience. A pen was handed to each leader. The Chinese leader stopped and after a brief statement, the interpreter said, “We cannot sign this. We do not agree with it.” What had been lost in cultural translation was that in China, one does not contradict a guest and we were the guests.

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