China Breaks Promise to Halt Unethical Biotech

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture

By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

The other day, I opposed Texas’ plan to allow doctors to charge for conducting human experiments with unapproved and still uncertain adult stem cell therapies. No matter how well “regulated” I don’t see how it would be that much different from what is happening in China — where clinics use the media-touted promises of CURES! to prey on the desperately ill for big bucks. The government promised a crackdown — and considering it is a tyranny, that shouldn’t be too hard — but despite the “promises, promises,” Surprise! It hasn’t happened. From the Nature story:

Three months after the Chinese health ministry ramped up its efforts to enforce a ban on the clinical use of unapproved stem-cell treatments, a Nature investigation reveals that businesses around the country are still charging patients thousands of dollars for these unproven therapies.

The clinics operate openly, with websites promoting the treatments for serious disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and autism, and attract thousands of medical tourists from overseas. They advertise case studies of individual patients who they say have benefited from the treatments, and some have clinics in major hospital complexes, giving them an air of mainstream acceptance. Stem-cell experts contacted by Nature insist that such therapies are not ready for the clinic and say that some may even endanger patients’ health. But the Chinese government is struggling to enforce its ban.

These kind of rogue clinics are a form of quackery. They cost a lot of money for “treatments” that have not been proven. That hurts people, sometimes by hurting people directly or by preventing them from getting treatments from which they might actually benefit, and/or seducing desperate people to chase shadows. One clinic is even claiming success in treating autism and Alzheimer’s with stem cells:

Shanghai WA Optimum Health Care, for example, which has plush headquarters in a gated estate in one of the wealthiest areas of central Shanghai, claims success in using stem cells derived from umbilical cord or adipose tissue to treat a range of disorders, from autism to multiple sclerosis. Tony Lu, a member of the company’s science and technology board, says that four to eight injections of such cells can treat Alzheimer’s disease, at a cost of 30,000–50,000 renminbi (US$4,750–7,900) per injection. According to the company’s senior patient-liaison officer, Karina Grishina, autism can be treated with an adipose-tissue-derived cell injection for 200,000 renminbi, followed a few days later by a 50,000-renminbi injection of umbilical cord cells.

There is little reason to believe that stem cells will treat Alzheimer’s or autism. The MS treatment that does show clinical promise, requires first that the patient’s immune system be destroyed and then rebuilt. That is a potentially dangerous approach that requires great care and protection from infection.

Promises. Promises. Promises. It is worth noting that is the same China that has promised to crackdown on organ buying from murdered prisoners. That ain’t going to happen either, methinks. Talk is cheap. Abiding by what is right even if it means one doesn’t personally profit — whether in health or pocketbook — is difficult. Falling prey to exploiters of false hopes is tragic.

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