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Governing Emerging Technologies: Social Values and Stem Cell Regulation in Argentina

Shawn Harmon

Affiliated staff:   Graeme Laurie   Fabiana Arzuaga

Funding: ESRC Innogen Centre

Started: April 1 2008

Website: http://www.law.ed.ac.uk/ahrc/esrcvaluesproject/

Background

The appropriate creation and application of biotechnology throws up numerous challenges with which society must deal: scientific, environmental, social, ethical and legal.

Human Stem Cell Research (SCR), as an evolving exemplar of biotech innovation, is a nexus for many of these challenges and controversies.  Although there is a growing body of work relating to human stem cells (SCs), there is a dearth of work on the interaction of social values and law in the SCR context – with its tensions between promoting science, managing stakeholders and limiting risks – and of its pursuit in developing countries.

Within the context of a case study on the regulation of biotechnology in Argentina, with special emphasis on the governance of stem cells from sourcing, to storing, to commercialising research outputs, the Governing Emerging Technologies project (GET: Social Values) examines how social and ethical values are, and can be, translated into legal rules (themselves deployed as social shaping tools insofar as they guide/promote socially significant research).

Aims and objectives

The GET: Social Values project is an ESRC-funded project that will examine the conduct and motivating values of Argentine stakeholders as they struggle with the moral and other controversies surrounding these regulatory subjects and endeavour to formulate socially acceptable regulatory structures applicable thereto.

Objectives include mapping the most salient features of the social/moral/legal debates, developing dialogues with stakeholders to reveal the multiple goals envisioned for regulation, and contributing to the debate surrounding and formulation of value-sensitive regulatory models.

In additional to facilitating communication amongst stakeholders, it is expected that the GET: Social Values project will:

  • Highlight the importance of values to the legitimacy and quality of regulation
  • Explore those values with individuals operating in this arena
  • Identify opportunities to translate values into effective regulation within this developing economy

However, given that Argentina has ambitions to become a regional leader, both scientifically and regulatorily, findings and benefits may not be limited to Argentina; the GET: Social Values project should permit general and generalisable insights into the governance of SCR and the accommodation of values in same, that is relevant to other similarly situated (culturally, economically, etc.) countries.

Research methods

The GET: Social Values project design is intended to maximise the potential for in-depth information supportive of analysis of the key issues involved, including the existence of a disconnect between moral aspiration and rhetoric, on the one hand, and legal output, on the other.

It will consist of the following:

  • Documentary research on the social and legal settings, questioning (1) what moral values are implicated by emerging SCR practices, (2) what primary moral debates surround SC harvesting, banking and patenting, and (3) whether different nations at different stages of economic development have significantly different notions of the importance of ethical values to regulation
  • A one-day interactive workshop in which some 10-15 stakeholder participants will consider various issues such innovation promotion, science governance, and patient safety, and legal solutions relating to same, thereby testing a variety of frameworks for advancing normative rules;
  • Approximately 20-25 semi-structured interviews with key Argentine stakeholders so as to explore participants’ (1) views on the social costs and benefits of sourcing, storing and commercialising SCs, and understandings of the primary moral debates surrounding same, (2) opinions on the moral values implicated by emerging practices, and (3) assessments of how research regulation can and ought to address moral concerns, what values are most important for inclusion within regulation, and the hurdles to achieving (moral) regulation given conflicts of values and objectives.

All material will be compiled and reviewed, and conclusions will be drawn and registered on ESRC Society Today.

Wider implications for policy

Findings will be fed into legislative and regulatory processes in Argentina as they become available.

Project update

The first round of field work has been undertaken.