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Societal dialogue for Ministry of HWS

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (HWS) strives to keep Dutch citizens and visitors as healthy as possible. To this end, the directorate of Public Health thinks about the ethical and societal challenges that come up as new innovations extend what is possible in the field of health interventions.

Societal dialogue to break taboos

Currently, the Dutch law prohibits creating embryos for research purposes. However, when this prohibition was instituted, the proviso was made that this legislation should change in case of relevant changes concerning scientific innovations, legislation of neighbouring countries or a shift in the mindset of the Dutch society towards this research practice.

In this context, the ministry of Health asked Schuttelaar & Partners to organise a societal dialogue to bring to light how Dutch people think of creating embryos for research purposes.

In order to get a qualitative understanding of the most relevant arguments in this debate and to get an impression of the opinions of Dutch people concerning this topic, we organised a number of dialogue forms. We combined focus groups with experts, societal interest groups and a citizens’ panel with a societal café open to the public and complemented these qualitative dialogues by a quantitative analysis of a survey performed with 1.000 Dutch respondents.

Setting conditions key to support

This research showed that the opinion on creating embryos for research purposes varies widely between people in the Netherlands. While respondents are generally receptive towards creating embryos for research purposes, the conditions under which such research is allowed to take place is of high importance to them. For some involved, for instance, the presence of tools that allow the public to control what type of research is permitted, is an important prerequisit for allowing this practice at all. Another important observation is that people seem more positive towards creating embryos for research as they learned more on the context of this topic.

Extra debates necessary

The report on this project was presented to the Dutch House of Representatives by Minister Hugo de Jonge in March 2020. The results provide a solid ground for further societal and political dialogue on the subject of creating embryos for research purposes.