The Public Communication and Biopolitics of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research in the United States and the European Union

Kalina Kamenova (kamenova@ualberta.ca)
Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University
November, 2011
 
MA (Sofia University), MA (Central European University), MA (Toronto), PhD (York)

Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Director, Centre for Public Involvement, University of Alberta
 

Abstract

This dissertation uses the methods of interpretive social science to explore the multidimensional nature of the stem cell controversy, its competing epistemologies, and types of resolution and policy closure that have been sought in the United States and the European Union. It provides a comparative perspective on the social dynamics of public involvement in stem cell research and evaluates efforts by governments and bioethics advisory bodies to integrate dialogue and deliberation in science policy and decision making. The analysis highlights the agenda-setting and framing roles of the print and electronic news media in the public discourse over stem cells and human cloning, including their ability to validate conflicting knowledge claims about stem cell science and frame uncertainty about its clinical promise.

I argue that stem cell policy debates are deeply embedded in particular socio-political and cultural contexts, and therefore regulatory responses to the societal challenges arising from this biomedical innovation have largely been shaped by non-epistemic factors (considerations external to science and its epistemologies). In the US, the issue of human embryonic stem cell research was right from the outset framed in terms of the contentious politics of abortion, became caught up in America’s culture wars, and the funding policy debate revived salient political themes of earlier controversies over abortion and fetal transplantation research. By contrast, efforts by EU policymakers to develop a framework for the ethical governance of stem cell technologies and their applications in regenerative medicine were intertwined with fundamental questions of EU federalism, common European cultural values, and the traditional consensus-oriented politics. I claim that in both cases the moral and policy dilemma was brought to a conclusion by non-epistemic procedural closure. By sealing off the debate through legislative and administrative procedures, policymakers have failed to achieve a morally justifiable resolution of the issues central to the stem cell controversy either through the method of consensus closure or on the basis of epistemic (knowledge-based) factors.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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