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Egenis · Events

Egenis Seminar with Dr Erich Griessler “Because it is such a hot potato, we better don’t touch it”
The Regulation of controversial biomedical research in Austria

Seminar   25.05.2010






Dr. Erich Griessler, Institute for Advanced Studies, Department of Sociology, Vienna

Organised by



University of Exeter,Egenis,Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJ

Event details

Time: 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


When comparing the regulation of recent biomedical research areas in Austria and the UK it is striking that Austria and the UK in most cases are on the opposing ends of an imagined regulatory continuum. Whereas British policy makers opted for rather permissive regulations of reproductive medicine, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), therapeutic cloning and human embryonic stem cell research, Austrian decision-makers were very restrictive, forbidding many practices of reproductive medicine (e.g. egg donation), the use of embryos for research, and PGD.In my presentation I want to describe and explain this restrictive trait of Austrian regulation of biomedical research and try to answer the question whether there are certain Austrian characteristics in the regulation of biomedicine.I will firstly argue that though Austrian policy makers are in general rather research friendly in the area of biomedicine (e.g. in the case of organ donation), this research friendly tendency turns into restriction when it comes to the question of the moral status of the embryo. This is related to a still unresolved conflict in Austrian society about abortion, which in principle should have been settled with the introduction of an abortion limit in the mid 1970s. Thus one characteristic of Austrian regulation of biomedicine is a path dependency of policy decisions.Secondly, there is a strong tendency towards tabooisation of controversial topics in Austrian politics, which hampers the political regulation of new technologies. The main reason for this is the Austrian political culture, which is strongly rooted in the social partnership, in a corporatist political arrangement between employers’ and employees’ organisations and the state.Thirdly, there are two central and influential lobbies in the regulation of biomedicine, i.e. scientific and medical experts as well as the Catholic Church. Whereas these two powerful groups often agree with each other in a permissive regulation of biomedicine (e.g. organ transplantation), they are antagonistic when it comes to topics related to the moral status of the embryo or end of life decisions.As regards policy making in the area of biomedicine, decision making is dominated by small elites of bureaucrats and lobbies and – apart from the abortion debate – characterised by little public interest and involvement. Decision making is mainly located in the executive branch with little involvement of Parliament.The presentation is based on findings of research project currently carried out at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, i.e. “Impact of Citizen Participation on Decision-Making in a Knowledge Intensive Policy Field (CIT-PART, www.cit-part.at) and “Genetic Testing and Changing ‘Images of Human Life’ in the Clinical and Political Domains of Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis and Pre-Natal Diagnosis (www.ihs.ac.at/steps/humanlife).

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