, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 46–66 | Cite as

Human Embryo Gene Editing in China: The Uncertain Legal Status of the Embryo

  • Li JiangEmail author
  • Achim Rosemann
Original Article


In this article, we examine processes of ethical deliberation, legislative developments, and social and political factors that have contributed to the emergence of human embryo gene editing as a field of life science research in China. For this purpose, we examine conceptions of the legal status of the human embryo in three domains of China’s legal system: in patent law, in the jurisdictional domain of birth control, and in civil law. Each of these legal domains handles a different conception of the human embryo’s moral and legal status, and in all three the embryo’s status is contested and subject to changes. Our findings suggest that definitions of the legal status of the human embryo in China are at present in the midst of a renegotiation progress, which is driven by a variety of developments and causes. In this paper, we focus on three types of controversies that underlie this renegotiation process and we illustrate the conflicting aspirations, ethical arguments, and moral priorities that inform these conflicts. We end this article with three lines of consideration that might structure future studies on this issue.


CRISPR Human embryo gene editing Legal status of human embryo Research regulation Morality China 



The work of the first author has been funded by the Jiangsu Philosophy and Social Science Foundation (17ZXC003), the Ministry of Justice of People’s Republic of China (17SFB3028), and the project “the alienation of biotechnology patent” approved by Philosophy and Social Science Research Fund of Colleges and Universities in Jiang Su Province (2017SJB1330). The work of the second author has benefitted from research support provided by the ERC (283219), the ESRC (ES/I018107/1), and the Wellcome Trust (204799/Z/16/Z). We would also like to thank the editorial team of BioSocieties and the three anonymous reviewers of this paper for their constructive and very helpful comments. We confirm that the manuscript is composed of original material that is not under review elsewhere, and that the study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. We confirm that there are no competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kenneth Wang School of LawSoochow UniversitySuzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Jiang Su University Regional Regulation Development Collaborative Innovation CenterNan JingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  4. 4.Centre for Bionetworking, School of Global StudiesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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