Accepted Paper:

Regulatory frustrations: how the evaluation of reproductive materials hampers human embryonic stem cell research in Japan  
Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the reasons for the apparent failure to stimulate hESR in Japan. Rather than spiritual culture, I argue that a culture of safety and affluence and the organisational culture of decision-making in Japan explain this.

Paper long abstract:

In July 2004, following the regulation of research cloning in the UK and the cloning success of Huang Woo-Suk in Korea, Japan's government's Council for Science and Technology Policy decided to permit the cloning of human research embryos. Despite major organisational and financial efforts to stimulate the life sciences (the Millennium Project, the establishment of various national and governmental bioethics committees and strategies), Japan in 2006 still has no regulation for embryo cloning. There are only a few scientists concentrate on human ES cells; and, research groups interested in human embryo cloning are hard to find. Moreover, apart from patient groups that fervently encourage research into stem cell therapies and a few religious groups that oppose it, a majority of the population has hardly any idea what stem cells are about.

This paper explores the reasons for the apparent failure to stimulate research in human embryonic stem cells and the reasons for the lack of a broad public discussion. I shall do this by discussing the role of various 'cultures' related to the organisation and development of ES cell research and embryo/ocyte donation in Japan. I argue that rather than spiritual culture, two other cultural factors are crucial to the research and regulation of body materials: a culture of safety and affluence, and the organisational culture of decision-making in Japan.

Contrasting Japanese religious-cultural concepts of 'life' with European ones, I show how they are of great relevance to the way in which various groups of people express their agreement or opposition to embryo and/or ocyte donation. Second, I argue that the lack of concern of a majority of the people can be understood only in the context of the ways in which the government and media provide information and the way in which bioethics decision-making is organised in Japan. Finally, I show that the meaning of embryo donation is linked to the way in which Japanese society has come to emphasise the urgency of infertility problems over that of mass-abortion. As a result of the valuation of these reproductive materials, the donation of ocytes and embryos as resources for science research constitutes a problem hESR.

Panel IW07
Medical anthropology, Europe and the world