Think rationally act culturally? - A comparative analysis of the bioethical discourse on 'synthetic embryos' in Germany and the UK

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Health Service and Population Research


The biotechnological possibilities expected and realized in
stem cell research present democratic societies with urgent
ethical quandaries. The developments in these fields
challenge fundamental concepts, such as what counts as a
human embryo and what features should form the basis for
moral status, which are perceived as the basis and order of
societies (Munsie et al., 2017). This project will examine how
new biological entities, specifically the making of synthetic
human entities with embryo-like features (SHEEFs)
(Warmflash, 2017, Aach et al., 2017), present new challenges
to assessing and understanding new life forms in the 21st
century (Scudellari, 2016, Jasanoff, 2016, Zimmer, 2017). By
comparing and contrasting the bioethical approaches to
'synthetic embryos' in the UK and Germany, this project will
establish a knowledge base to examine how democratic
control over these new entities touches "the political and
cultural nerve centres of industrial nations" (Jasanoff 2016).
Traditionally, bioethics presents itself as a viable way to meet
the questions presented by new biotechnologies. Its formal
and rational structure and the apparent value freedom make
it bureaucratically attractive and its cooperation with other
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disciplines such as economics, law and philosophy increases
its legitimacy and epistemic power (Rose, 2009). Bioethics
appears to be a suitable tool to bridge the divide between
scientific realities and cultural values (Salter and Salter,
2007). This view, however, is increasingly disputed both
outside and within the field of bioethics itself (Fox et al.,
2008, Turner, 2009, Hedgecoe, 2010, Hurlbut, 2017). Within
the disciplines of sociology and science and technology
studies (STS), bioethics is criticized because of a dominance
of "idealised rational thought" (Hedgecoe, 2004) and a
tendency to ignore cultural and social factors (Wilson, 2014).
Within bioethics, there seems to be an increasing awareness
that bioethics should be understood as an "embedded socio-
cultural practice, shaped by the ever-changing intuitions of
individual philosophers" (Ives and Dunn, 2010). This project
aims to meet these demands by bringing together key sets
of literature from sociology, STS and bioethics to provide an
in-depth look into the formation of the bioethical discourse
as a culturally situated phenomenon. I will do this by using
'synthetic human entities with embryo-like features'
(SHEEFs) as a case study


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2309787 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Sandra Loder