Ethics prize goes to Chinese scientist

Qiu Renzong: China's science ethics pioneer Copyright: Qiu Renzong

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[BEJING] A Chinese bioethicist has become the first from his country to win a prestigious award for ethics in science.

Qiu Renzong — emeritus senior research fellow at China’s Institute of Philosophy — received the 2009 Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science at the UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) headquarters in Paris last month (18 December).

The organisation highlighted Qiu’s pioneering research into science ethics and his public advocacy work about science-related ethical issues, which they say have "established him as a major figure both in the Chinese academic community and worldwide".

Qiu, who is also the chairperson of the Academic Committee at the Centre for Bioethics at the Peking Union Medical College, told SciDev.Net that the institutionalisation of the ethics of science and bioethics in China has led to a number of laws, regulations and rules for the safeguarding and protection of public rights and welfare.

"These achievements are visible to the international community and in this endeavour there are remarkable contributions from bioethicists," he said.

Qiu said that although it is necessary for developing countries concerned about their people’s welfare to develop science and technology, the pursuit is a double-edged sword. It improves quality of life for its citizens and boosts the country’s power, but may also cause a range of ethical, legal and social issues.

"If these issues are not properly addressed, they will cause great harm to people, society and mankind, and even impede healthy development of science and technology," he said.

"Promoting ethics of science and bioethics; enhancing ethical awareness in scientists, physicians and regulators; and building the capacity to address these ethical issues are therefore of great significance to any developing country."

Qiu, 77, was the first Chinese scientist to introduce Western bioethics concepts, such as euthanasia and brain death, into the country.

Zhai Xiaomei, a bioethicist from the Peking Union Medical College, told SciDev.Net that Qiu’s work is crucial for promoting the public understanding and debate of science.