"The fact that in the past scientists could do whatever they wanted does not mean that today we can still have a hands-off approach." With these words, Liu Hung-en, assistant professor of law at National Taipei University, succinctly sums up the dilemma in which Taiwan Biobank finds itself at present.
What is a biobank? Why does Taiwan want to create one? And why has there been so much controversy?
In April of 2003, the completion of the human genome project marked the arrival of the "post-genome" era. Since then, a major focus of research has become the study of inherited genetic differences between groups and individuals.
To provide resources for research, many countries-including Japan, Sweden, Iceland, and the UK-have established biological databases or gene banks large and small.
And in this large-scale genetic war, Taiwan naturally cannot fall behind.
In 2004 the Executive Yuan announced that in order to ensure that Taiwan did not lose the genetic data collection race right from the start, the government would plan and promote the creation of Taiwan's own biobank.
The program's official launch followed in 2005, and it was incorporated into the NT$15 billion "Biomedical Technology Island Plan" (which also includes basic infrastructure for an integrated network of data on citizens' health as well as a system for clinical testing and research).
But Taiwan Biobank has not been favored by fate. While there are ambitious targets and blueprints, the whole project has wobbled unsteadily amidst a chorus of doubts. Over the past three years, we have only heard the sounds of the whistle calling "All aboard," but the biobank train has yet to get out of the station.