Innogen  ·  Publications  ·  Journal articles
The Changing Governance of Embryo Research?

Gillott, J

New Genetics and Society   32 (2) 190-206

April 2013   (Published online May 2013)

This article examines continuities and discontinuities in the governance of human embryo research in the UK from the 1980s to the present. The substantive success of researchers in securing permission to pursue a greater range of activities under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) 2008 as compared with the HFE Act 1990 is located in two factors: first, a commitment by Government to allow such work; second, the decline in influence of categorical opposition to embryo research, particularly the Pro Life perspective. We have moved from a framework centered on respecting the “special status” of the human embryo to one that includes this within a process-orientated governance framework that respects a plurality of views. Against this background, research scientists have expressed the hope, and critics the fear, that contemporary law and debate suggest that they are “escaping the tyranny of the embryo”. However, over the past 10–15 years in particular, the battle to influence governance and the outcome of this battle were characteristic of what is termed the new modes of governance, in the following sense: the governance of embryo research in the UK is still relatively “top down”, guided by a specific legal framework and a single regulator. But at the same time Government and the regulator, formally at least, embraced horizontal tools of governance, downplayed ideas of governance that are based on a view of government controlling the actions of others and adopted a highly consultative approach to policy-making. This created some novel and, for natural scientists, not entirely positive, outcomes. If one trend in the past 20 years has been in the direction of normalizing embryo research, a corollary of that trend is that some areas of research and innovation have become normally problematic.