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Debates on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Japan: Minority Voices and their Political Amplifiers

 Author: Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner 

Abstract:

Compared to debates in the West, the debate on human embryonic stem cell research (hESR) in Japan is said to be hardly existent. According to established views, the country has no cultural canons that forbid hESR, so a debate on the status of the embryo is hardly relevant to Japanese culture. The existing debate is considered crucial to science policy-makers, though monopolized by the voices of only a few social groups. Three such minority voices are: the Anti-Eugenic Network, a feminist-cum-handicapped movement; the Japanese Association for Spinal Cord Injuries; and a few radical Buddhist sects. These three groups clearly support or oppose hESR. Nevertheless the public debate is carried mainly by political interest groups that amplify and mis-quote the minority voices. These interest groups capitalize on the hopes placed on hESR in promoting financial and political support, at the same time as they aim to cure disease. The past experiences of the three social groups with Japanese politics on health are linked to promises, risk perception and doubts about the future of hESR.

This is an electronic version of an article published in Science as Culture, Volume 17, Issue 1, 2008. Science as Culture is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09505430801915455