Stem Cell Research
Social, Political, and Ethical Dimensions

Interviews in a pilot project on the development and aftermath of California’s Stem Cell Research and Cures Act of 2004 explore the impetus for the initiative campaign and the profound public policy debates which have surrounded it. They examine issues crucial to understanding a fundamental shift in relations between science, technology, business, the state, and society. More about this project.

Completed Transcripts

Adrienne Asch
Disability Scholar and Advocate, Professor of Bioethics. 2009, 156 pp.

Paul Berg
Reflections on California's Stem Cell Research Initiative. 2007, 41 pp.

Marcy Darnovsky
Associate Director of the Center for Genetics and Society: On California’s Stem Cell
Research and Cures Initiative
.
2007, 64 pp.

Paul Longmore
Disability Scholar and Activist, Historian of Early America. 2008, 196 pp.

Donald Reed
Patient Advocate for Stem Cell Research: The Quest for Cures. 2007, 61 pp.

William Rutter
Prologue to the California Stem Cell Initiative and Institute. 2009, 17 pp.


About This Project

The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act Initiative of 2004 provides a unique opportunity to explore the profound public policy debates which surround this cutting-edge biomedical research. The act, passed overwhelmingly by California voters in November 2004, promised an unprecedented ten-year, $3 billion public commitment to fund research in human embryonic stem-cell technologies and demonstrated strong public confidence in the scientific community's ability to convert basic research into medical cures for life-threatening diseases.

After the initiative's passage, however, concerns about proposed administrative processes came to the fore and debates about social and ethical issues intensified. Questioning the stem cell enterprise in California were conservative right-to-lifers, determined to protect the sanctity of the embryo, joined by pro-choice feminists and progressives, concerned about the potential for misuse of stem cell research to eugenically alter the human genome, exploitation of women to obtain donations of eggs required for the research, and problems of social equity and justice. Supporting the stem cell initiative were bioscientists in academia and industry cognizant of the great potential of the science. They were joined by an increasingly powerful patient-advocate community, which had been the driving force behind the initiative and had the most to gain from its promise of cures for an array of diseases and disabilities.

The interviews posted here were conducted in 2005-2007 as part of a pilot project undertaken by the Regional Oral History Office. At the time of the posting of the lead interviews in early 2008, recent scientific breakthroughs promised to resolve some of the challenging social and political issues: researchers appear to have found a way to create stem cells without harming either eggs or embryos or using cloning technologies, thus possibly removing many points of contention and opening the possibility of future federal funding for stem cell resarch. However, social, ethical, and political questions raised by California’s stem cell initiative persist, many of them reflected in these pilot project interviews:

  • How is science transformed by close collaboration with industry and when situated in an environment in which the public is primed to expect cures and a rapid trajectory of results to the marketplace?
  • What is the place of politics and social, ethical, and public policy oversight in scientific research?
  • What are the social and ethical implications of emerging biotechnologies, especially those related to human reproductive technologies?
  • How are the debates about stem cell research and other new genetic technologies informed and shaped by the rise of patient advocacy for medical cures, and by the disability-rights movement, which rejects a medical model of disability and prioritizes social change?

In these and other respects, the stem cell initiative’s origin and development are of abiding political and historical interest as a case study for fundamental shifts in the relations between science, technology, business, the state, and society.

This project was undertaken in collaboration with Berkeley's Science, Technology, and Society Center. Initial project support came from the Townsend Center for the Humanities, Chancellor’s funds for the ethical, legal, and social issues of stem cell research, and the Rothschild Foundation.



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