Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 191–202 | Cite as

Marginalizing Experience: A Critical Analysis of Public Discourse Surrounding Stem Cell Research in Australia (2005–6)

  • Tamra LysaghtEmail author
  • John Miles Little
  • Ian Harold Kerridge


Over the past decade, stem cell science has generated considerable public and political debate. These debates tend to focus on issues concerning the protection of nascent human life and the need to generate medical and therapeutic treatments for the sick and vulnerable. The framing of the public debate around these issues not only dichotomises and oversimplifies the issues at stake, but tends to marginalise certain types of voices, such as the women who donate their eggs and/or embryos to stem cell research and the patients who might benefit from its potential clinical outcomes. This paper draws on empirical research conducted on a recent stem cell policy episode in Australia. From the qualitative examination of 109 newspaper opinion editorials and twenty-three in-depth interviews, it is argued that these voices are marginalised because they are based on discourses that have less epistemological status in public debate. Our results suggest that the personal experiences of women and patients are marginalised by the alliances that form between more powerful discourse communities that use science as a source of authority and legitimation. It is argued that members of these communities establish legitimacy and assert authority in public debate by discursively deploying science in claims that marginalise other epistemologies. Implications are discussed along with suggestions for a more enriched and inclusive public debate.


Stem cells Cloning Bioethics Public policy 



This study was conducted in accordance with approvals obtained from the University of Sydney’s Human Research Ethics Committee and carried out under the auspices of a Premier Postgraduate Scholarship at the Australian Stem Cell Centre. During this study, one of the authors (IK) served as a member of the Legislative Review Committee appointed to review Australia’s federal legislation governing the use of human embryos in research and human cloning. We would like to thank Rachel Ankeny from the University of Adelaide, who co-supervised the project with IK, and made valuable contributions to the study. We also acknowledge the support of staff and students at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine and the generous time given by the interview participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamra Lysaght
    • 1
    Email author
  • John Miles Little
    • 2
  • Ian Harold Kerridge
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Dean’s Office, Yong Loo Lin School of MedicineNational University of SingaporeSingaporeUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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