Embryo Politics

Embryo Politics: Ethics and Policy in Atlantic Democracies

Thomas Banchoff
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Embryo Politics
    Book Description:

    Since the first fertilization of a human egg in the laboratory in 1968, scientific and technological breakthroughs have raised ethical dilemmas and generated policy controversies on both sides of the Atlantic. Embryo, stem cell, and cloning research have provoked impassioned political debate about their religious, moral, legal, and practical implications. National governments make rules that govern the creation, destruction, and use of embryos in the laboratory-but they do so in profoundly different ways.

    In Embryo Politics, Thomas Banchoff provides a comprehensive overview of political struggles aboutembryo research during four decades in four countries-the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Banchoff's book, the first of its kind, demonstrates the impact of particular national histories and institutions on very different patterns of national governance. Over time, he argues, partisan debate and religious-secular polarization have come to overshadow ethical reflection and political deliberation on the moral status of the embryo and the promise of biomedical research. Only by recovering a robust and public ethical debate will we be able to govern revolutionary life-science technologies effectively and responsibly into the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6059-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Nineteen sixty-eight was a pivotal year. On both sides of the Atlantic, youth protest and civil unrest shook the foundations of the social and political order, marking an end to the postwar era. This book traces the legacy of another 1968 event, less noticed at the time but no less revolutionary in the long run: the first successful fertilization of a human egg outside the womb. That feat, accomplished by the team of Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe in Cambridge, England, launched a scientific and biomedical revolution with far-reaching consequences that continue to unfold. Key milestones have included the birth...

  5. Chapter 1 The Emergence of Ethical Controversy
    (pp. 21-69)

    The human embryo only slowly emerged as an object of ethical controversy. A first alleged account of human in vitro fertilization, reported by the New York Times in 1944, occasioned little public reaction. News stories about work with embryos appeared intermittently during the early 1960s but, in the absence of scientific confirmation, generated very little notice. Even after the first confirmed fertilization of a human egg in the laboratory in Cambridge, England, in 1968, questions surrounding the moral status of the embryo and the promise of biomedical research sparked little public controversy. Groups later embroiled in embryo politics, including scientific...

  6. Chapter 2 First Embryo Research Regimes
    (pp. 70-119)

    The embryo did not become the object of open political struggle in Atlantic democracies until the second half of the 1980s. Ethical debates that began in the 1970s, centered among scientists, doctors, philosophers, and theologians, gained wider public attention through the work of national ethics committees convened first in the United States and then in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, over the period 1978 to 1986. Only when governments began take up those committee recommendations and explore appropriate regulatory action did IVF and embryo research gain broader political salience. Parties and interest groups coalesced around different ethical stances and...

  7. Chapter 3 The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
    (pp. 120-168)

    The successful isolation of human embryonic stem cells in a Wisconsin laboratory in 1998 marked a critical juncture in embryo politics. Over the previous three decades, ethical and political controversy had revolved mainly around the moral status of embryos and whether to use them in experiments to improve the safety and efficacy of infertility treatment. With the exception of the United Kingdom, the future potential of embryo research to address a wider range of medical problems had not figured prominently in policy controversies of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was now to change. Echoing other major news outlets...

  8. Chapter 4 Stem Cell and Cloning Politics
    (pp. 169-232)

    By the mid-1990s a first wave of national policy struggles over embryo research had ended. After years of controversy, first the United Kingdom and Germany and then France and the United States had instituted legal regimes between 1990 and 1995 to govern the funding and regulation of research with embryos. The policy struggles had been fierce, but the outcomes—ranging from the most restrictive regime in Germany to the most liberal in the United Kingdom—seemed relatively stable. As it turned out, these political settlements would not last long. The twin cloning and embryonic stem cell breakthroughs of 1997–98...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-258)

    We are just over four decades into a new era. In the years after 1968, the living human embryo moved out of the darkness of the womb and into the light of the laboratory for the first time. Over the next four decades further breakthroughs included the first child born by in vitro fertilization, the cryopreservation of embryos, the derivation of embryonic stem cells, and the first cloned human embryo. The future trajectory of research with embryos is uncertain. Some researchers will continue to focus on stem cells, infertility, and early human development. Others will turn to frontier technologies such...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-294)