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Shifting Connections: A Report on Emerging Federal Policy Relating to Women's Health, the New Genetics and Biotechnology


Commissioned by The Working Group on Women, Health and the New Genetics
Constance MacIntosh, author
January 1999

This is a policy primer, of value to experts and novices wishing to gain insight into the range of Canadian government activities which bear on the way that biotechnologies will impact on women and their health.

Constance MacIntosh was asked to review three federal activities which, it was assumed a priori, had some relevance for these issues: the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy, regulation of the "New" Reproductive and Genetic Technologies, and, the restructuring of federal responsibilities within Health Canada's Health Protection Branch. MacIntosh fulfilled that charge and expanded on it.

MacIntosh's chief conclusion is that there are two forces in tension within federal policy which produce profoundly different visions and objectives with respect to health. On the one hand, the federal government has committed itself to expanding private industry in Canada and developing a stronger position for Canadian industry in international trade. On the other hand, MacIntosh detects a move at the federal level to reorient the health system to make it better reflect new ways of thinking about the nature of health, and how to achieve it - notably, by attending to health determinants and gender.

Of course, not all federal policies are encompassed by MacIntosh's review. And since she completed her review, federal policies have continued to evolve. Moreover, given the constitutional division of powers, some analyses - such as those regarding health reform - are necessarily limited where provincial policies and practices are ignored. Finally, this review is limited by its attention to official discussions of what can and should happen. What actually is happening and will happen is not only absent from official commentary, it is often actively obscured.

Still, readers of this work gain tremendous insight into what MacIntosh terms the "shifting connections" of policy goals and policy actors within a large, complex and profoundly heterogeneous federal government. We can detect structural and ideological tensions between different divisions, and get some idea of which "side" is winning by attending to which policies are actively pursued, which are pursued by stealth, and which are left to wither.

F.A. Miller

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© 2001 Working Group on Women, Health and the New Genetics