Bioethics News

Bioethics commission sets out game plan for creating consensus

Rapid innovation in the wake of the development of the CRISPR gene editing technology has not caught the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues napping. Armed with this tool, scientists will be eager to conduct many ethically contentious experiments with government funding — and the Commission seems keen to facilitate this.

So, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Commission has issued a report about decision-making in an age of bioethical change. The commission is merely an advisory body which reports to the White House and can be reconstituted or dissolved by the next President. However, its recommendations will no doubt influence policy, especially if Mrs Clinton wins in November.

Rather than dealing with a specific issue, the report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology, discusses how to reach a consensus on controversial issues when the broader public really doesn’t understand all the implications of policy. In the United States this has led to acrimonious debates conducted on the front pages of newspapers and on prime-time TV on issues like the death of Terri Schiavo, embryonic stem cell research, the assisted suicide of Brittany Maynard, or Planned Parenthood’s sale of foetal tissue.

Finding a way to reach a decision on such issues without Sturm und Drang is the ultimate purpose of the report. The model it proposes is “democratic deliberation” backed up by ethics education. “Democratic” does not mean that the decision-making takes place in Congress, but that it embodies qualities like respect, compromise, reason-giving, and constructive public engagement.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.