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January 8, 1992

Biomedical Politics

Author Affiliations

Boston (Mass) University Medical Center

JAMA. 1992;267(2):300. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480020110046

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Do the enormous potential benefits of recombinant technology justify the risk of creating a lethal "Andromeda strain"? How big is the risk, anyway? Should society impede the progress of science by requiring expensive containment facilities?

During the past several decades, research has moved from Arrowsmith to Aerosmith, from the isolated scientist in an ivory tower to cacophony in the public arena about the costs, the values, and the achievements of modern biomedical science. In 1989 the Institute of Medicine convened a committee to study how decisions have been made about controversial biomedical issues and to make recommendations for improving the process. As a basis for the committee's discussion, the Institute commissioned six case studies of major decisions that demonstrate the interplay of experts and the general public, of scientists and government officials, and of strongly held societal opinions, such as those about abortion and scientific advances.

The cases range across