Bill to regulate human biomedical research passed

A Bill to protect people whose body tissues are used for research was given the nod in Parliament yesterday. It sets out what researchers can and must do, and the penalties for failing to adhere to the rules. The fines are of up to $100,000 and the maximum jail term is 10 years.

The Human Biomedical Research Bill, however, did not get the support of the Workers' Party (WP). Seven of its nine MPs abstained from voting. The remaining two - Aljunied GRC's Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Chen Show Mao - were absent during the vote.

The WP's reason is that its call for a Select Committee to "holistically scrutinise the clauses that confer significant powers to various entities" was not taken up.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), one of six MPs who spoke on the Bill, had made the call during the debate. He argued that the Bill "gives complete latitude to the minister to change the parameters and scope of biomedical research" without further debate in Parliament.

He said this makes "Parliament little more than a mere rubber stamp with regard to human biomedical research in Singapore".

Replying, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said the Bill's purpose is to "ensure the safety and welfare of research subjects whilst not stifling sound, ethical research". But the regulations may be calibrated according to the level of risks of the research, with additional restrictions imposed if it is sensitive or controversial, he added.

He also said the Health Minister can impose more controls, but cannot "expand the scope of what is regulated under the Bill, which can only be done by Parliament".

Dr Lam also addressed concerns raised by three doctor-MPs involved in research. Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) wanted paperwork to be kept to a minimum. Dr Lam promised that where possible, "electronic or other innovative solutions" would be used.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if donors could share in the profits if the research results were commercialised. No, said Dr Lam, as all donations must be voluntary and altruistic.

Nominated MP Benedict Tan asked if leftover specimens from treating a patient can be used for research. Yes, Dr Lam said, if these were no longer needed and the patient gave consent.

Non-constituency MP Lina Chiam asked about the use of "great apes'' in such research. Dr Lam said the Health Ministry consulted widely on the Bill and "recognised that the greater the possibility of 'humanisation' of the animal, the greater the need for restrictions".

Dr Lam thanked Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) who, speaking in Mandarin, said "the goal of human biomedical research is ultimately to help all of us achieve healthier and happier lives".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Bill to regulate human biomedical research passed'. Print Edition | Subscribe