Democracy  &  Nature, Vol. 5No. 3


The "democratic" separation of technology and ethics The case of the Flemish regulation of genetic engineering [1]

Dirk Holemans


Abstract: In most industrialised countries, technology policy nowadays includes public participation. Borrowing the concept ‘repressive tolerance’ of Marcuse, it can be argued that this participation is far removed from real democratic control. The argument is sustained by an analysis of the biotechnology policy of Flanders, one of the high tech regions of the European Union. To do so, it is however important to look at the history of the regulation of genetic engineering. From the beginning, the scientific establishment followed by government decided that public involvement would be accepted but carefully controlled. Crucial in controlling public involvement was the reduction of the broad public debate into a technical discussion on safety issues. The European legislation is in tune with this aim. And the Flemish case makes clear how public participation and critical research are contained and reduced to mere strategic policy tools.

[1] A preliminary version of parts of this article was presented at the 1995 Conference of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology.