Bioethics Blogs

Exploring Democratic Deliberation

Bioethics Commission member Col. Nelson Michael was interviewed in June by BioEdge, a bioethics news site, about the Commission’s capstone report Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science and Technology. In a previous post, we discussed Col. Michael’s discussion of lifelong bioethics education. This post will focus on Col. Michael’s discussion of democratic deliberation, which the Commission recommends in its report.

Democratic deliberation is a method of decision-making that brings diverse voices to the table, and promotes mutual respect and reason-giving in order to identify areas of agreement to facilitate solutions to challenging problems. The goal of reaching consensus on a way forward distinguishes deliberation from debate, which involves participants trying to persuade others that their arguments are correct and more compelling than their fellow participants’ arguments. While participants are encouraged to use facts and reasons to support their various positions during the deliberative process, democratic deliberation is intended to be a mutually respectful process, with all participants entering the deliberation with an open mind and a willingness to consider other perspectives.

Xavier Symons, the BioEdge interviewer, asked Col. Michael about the criticism that democratic deliberation “smother[ed] substantial debate in focus groups and reports,” citing the debates and public deliberation that occurred when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the United Kingdom considered the ethical implications of transferring a healthy nucleus from a mother’s egg to a donor egg in order to avoid certain mitochondrial diseases. Col. Michael responded by noting that “the discussions were facilitated using democratic deliberation…this distinguished those conversations from the kind of debates we are more accustomed to.

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.