News and Views on Tibet

Non-consensual DNA samples of Tibetans, Uyghurs used in Chinese research papers

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
A technician in a genetic laboratory in Yunnan province (Photo/Reuters)

By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 25: A science journal Human Genetics has taken down a research paper that used DNA samples taken from Tibetans, Uyghurs and Kazakhs, whose consent was most likely ignored during the research process, said the journal website. Their retraction note dated December 11, followed by thorough investigation, remarked that “upon original submission, the authors had informed the journal that informed consent had been obtained from all study participants . . . It has not been able to fully verify whether appropriate informed consent was obtained from all study participants in this article.”

A UK solicitor named Samuel Pitchford revealed in the Human Rights Pulse that it failed to hold up evidence mandated by the Declaration of Helsinki, adopted by the World Medical Association, which requires physicians to “protect the life, health, privacy, and dignity of the human subject”. The ethical lapses by the Chinese community have also been detected by other experts in the organ harvesting research that failed to account for a “substantial number” of prisoners of conscience in China who were killed for their organs.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy also noted that DNA databases are subject to “potential misuse for government surveillance, including identification of relatives and non-paternity, and the risk of miscarriages of justice.” The question of surveillance has been raised by victims of Uyghur genocide and several rights organization, citing governmental hold over identities of those who could resist the re-education campaigns. The study was finally taken down, splitting its Chinese and German authors, with some agreeing to the retraction and others opposing it.

The 2017 paper analyzed 37,994 DNA samples for Y chromosome variation across ethnic groups in China, at the time when Human Rights Watch also reported that Chinese police had begun collecting DNA samples from ordinary Uyghurs to conduct mass surveillance. HRW China Director Sophie Richardson said, “Mass DNA collection by the powerful Chinese police absent effective privacy protections or an independent judicial system is a perfect storm for abuses. China is moving its Orwellian system to the genetic level.”

One Response

  1. Countries that have centralized health records also maintain records of their citizens. NHS in Britain has plenty of published papers regarding rare genetic traits, not to mention data regarding over-prescription of certain type of drugs in Northern Ireland. As for consent, for those who are not educated to the long term repercussion and consequence, not only for themselves, but their descendants, it is debatable what the legal paperwork actually protects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *