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Parliamentary Cultures and Human Embryos: The Dutch and British Debates Compared

Marta Kirejczyk
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 29, No. 6 (Dec., 1999), pp. 889-912
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/285829
Page Count: 24
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Parliamentary Cultures and Human Embryos: The Dutch and British Debates Compared
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Abstract

Twenty years ago, the technology of in vitro fertilization created a new artefact: the human embryo outside the woman's body. In many countries, political debates developed around this artefact. One of the central questions in these debates is whether it is permissible to use human embryos in research and, if so, under what conditions. To date, no uniform answer to this question has been given by the governments and parliaments of the different nation states. This highlights the importance of national cultures and local dynamics in the process of crafting the space for human embryo research. In this paper I approach the issue of the national context by comparing the Dutch and British parliamentary debates on human embryos. Though some arguments used in both debates were similar, the outcomes were very different. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed in 1990. In the Netherlands, several bills on human embryos have been drafted, but each of them was withdrawn from the proceedings before reaching Parliament. To understand the processes which led to these different outcomes, I scrutinize the roles in the Netherlands of the political parties, of the scientists' lobby and of women speakers, and compare them with the findings on the UK debate. I also reflect upon the role played by gender in these two culturally different political contexts.

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