University of Tasmania
whole_DohertyBridgetTheresa2010_thesis.pdf (16.48 MB)

Destruction, creation and immortality : Australian public policy and nascent human life

Download (16.48 MB)
posted on 2023-05-26, 19:40 authored by Bridget DohertyBridget Doherty
This thesis examines the public policy outcomes in Australia in two distinct but related policy domains; Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research and cloning. Central to each policy domain is an important actor; the extra uterine human embryo. Without the surplus embryos created by default through ART, ESC research would not have eventuated. The possibility of cloned human embryos through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transplant (SCNT) technology represents the ultimate in ART. Each of these policy domains are characterised by divisive and irresolvable ethical conflicts over the moral status of the embryo or what it means to be human in the 21st Century. Each policy domain is also characterised by technological innovations which require policy solutions to new and complex policy problems. The central dilemma is how to elucidate policy when the problems are multidimensional, grounded in medicine, science and technology and deep conflicts over values exist. The standard response of disaggregating complex policy issues into their constituent components and referring them to a technocratic elite for solution is unsatisfactory because the essential contestation is not over facts but over values. In each of these policy arenas, there are multiple actors who form distinct coalitions to promote a particular policy stance. The policy stances however are not informed by shared beliefs and values. Rather the policy outcomes emerge from the contest between competing narratives which allow interests with different values and beliefs to come together around a shared storyline. Hajer's Discourse Coalition framework was used to identify the interests, discourses and narratives operating in each policy domain. In ART, particular health, science, ethics and industry interests form a discourse coalition around the dominant narrative of hope to promote public policies allowing increasingly wider access to ART for the involuntary childless. In this policy arena the extrauterine embryo is ambiguously constructed as both the desired child and a quality product. In the Australian context, ART policy remains within the private sphere of reproduction and the health policy domain under the jurisdiction of State and Territory governments despite efforts to place it on the national policy agenda. In ESC research and cloning, specific ethical, health and wellbeing, science and industry interests form a discourse coalition around the dominant narrative of 'saviour science' to promote a relatively permissive policy position on embryo research and therapeutic cloning. The embryo moves out of the private sphere of reproduction into the public sphere of international biotechnology, and is thoroughly commodified as a scientific and economic resource. The ESC policy domain requires a national policy response because it impacts on Australia as a scientific innovator and producer in the globally competitive biotechnology arena. Thus, two very different policy outcomes emerge despite a shared essential actor in the extrauterine embryo. The Discourse Coalition approach provides an alternative analysis of policy issues with seemingly irresolvable conflicts. It also provides a potential alternative policy making paradigm that allows interests with different norms and belief systems to form policy coalitions around a shared narrative to advance a particular policy position without sacrificing their underlying values.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 2010 the author Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references. Ch. 1. Introduction -- Ch. 2. Frameworks of analyses: interests, beliefs, values and discourses -- Ch. 3. Assisted reproduction technology -- Ch. 4. Embryonic stem cell research and cloning -- Ch. 5. Interests, narratives and discourse coalitions -- Ch. 6. Conclusion

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager