Gene technology at stake : Swedish governmental commissions on the border of science and politics

Sammanfattning: This thesis examines the Swedish political response to the challenges posed by gene technology, seen through the prism of governmental commissions. It discerns and analyses continuities and changes in the Swedish political conception of gene technology, over the course of two decades, 1980–2000. This is done by thematically following ideas of “risks” and “ethics” as they are represented in the inner workings and reception of three governmental commissions. The Gene-Ethics Commission (1981–1984), the Gene Technology Commission (1990–1992) and the Biotechnology Commission (1997–2000) form the empirical focal points of this analysis. The first two provided preparatory policy proposals that preceded the implementation of the Swedish gene technology laws of 1991 and 1994. The last one aimed at presenting a comprehensive Swedish biotechnology policy for the new millennium.The study takes into account the role of governmental commissions as arenas where science and politics intersect in Swedish political life, and illuminates how this type of “boundary organisation”, placed on the border of science and politics, impinges on the understanding of the gene technology issue. The commissions have looked into the limits, dangers, possibilities and future applications of gene technology. They have been appointed to deal with the problematic task of distinguishing between what is routine and untested practices, realistic prediction and “science fiction”, what are unique problems and what are problems substantially similar to older ones, what constitutes a responsible approach as opposed to misconduct and what it means to let things “get out of hand” in contrast to being “in control”. Throughout a period of twenty years, media reports have continued to frame the challenges posed by gene technology as a task of balancing risks and benefits, walking the fine line between “frankenfoods” and “miracle drugs”.One salient problem for the commissions to solve was that science and industry seemed to promote a technology the public opposed and resisted, at least in parts. For both politics and science to gain, or regain, public trust it needed to demonstrate that risks – be it environmental, ethical or health related ones – were under control. Under the surface, it was much more complicated than “science helping politics” to make informed and rational decisions on how to formulate a regulatory policy. Could experts be trusted to participate in policy-making in a neutral way and was it not important, in accordance with democratic norms, to involve the public?