Bioethics Blogs

Democratic Deliberation in Bioethics for Every Generation

On May 12, 2016 the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) issued its tenth report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology. In the first section, the report addresses how a pluralistic, democratic society can make policy decisions about complex topics in the realm of bioethics—which involves deeply held values regarding health, bodies, identities, and life and death—using democratic deliberation.

In an era in which complex topics often become mired in polarized debate, the Bioethics Commission’s recommendations for democratic deliberation provide a method for constructive public engagement. Democratic deliberation, characterized by mutual respect and reason-giving, offers a way to find acceptable solutions to complex policy challenges in bioethics. During its tenure, the Bioethics Commission has demonstrated the effectiveness of democratic deliberation by using this method to analyze and make policy recommendations about a variety of challenging bioethical topics.

Three of the eight recommendations that the Bioethics Commission made in Bioethics for Every Generation are about democratic deliberation. First, the Commission recommended that stakeholders in the democratic process inform bioethics policy decisions with democratic deliberation. Examples of stakeholders include government officials, health plans, researchers, and members of the public who are trying to set policies about health, science, and technology with important ethical dimensions. Democratic deliberation can promote understanding, mutual respect, and greater legitimacy for the resulting policy outcomes, even when the issues under discussion seem intractable at the outset.

Second, the Bioethics Commission recommended that organizers of deliberative activities conduct deliberative activities in ways conducive to mutual respect and reason-giving among participants in accordance with best practices.

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.