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Member Discussion of Deliberation

Today, the Bioethics Commission is developing recommendations for its work on deliberation and education. After years of modeling the use of democratic deliberation to arrive at solutions to complex and controversial bioethics and health, science, and technology policy questions, the Bioethics Commission is well-situated to make recommendations in this area.

Members discussed three potential recommendations during this session. First, they discussed strongly urging stakeholders at all levels to use democratic deliberation to inform policy decisions in health, science, and technology that have ethical dimensions. The Bioethics Commission’s own deliberations about medical countermeasure research with children serves as a vivid example of this process. In 2013 during their meetings about pediatric medical countermeasures, Members started with many different ideas about how to move ahead, and through effective deliberation, arrived at a path forward that was not only well-received by the key stakeholders, but was also implemented by major players in the field, including CDC and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. During this discussion, Members emphasized that well-designed deliberations can help us formulate better answers to bioethical questions that our society can act upon, by pooling intelligence and insight across a range of backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives. Members agreed that this will be an important recommendation to make. Some Members commented that the report should emphasize the specifics and mechanics of how to conduct democratic deliberation, using vivid examples of deliberative processes at different levels, not just at the federal level.

Second, they discussed recommending that those involved in deliberative activities should use available empirical evidence about methods for deliberation, and ensure that deliberative activities are designed and conducted according to best practices. For example, participants in deliberation should give reasons for their arguments that are accessible to and respectful of fellow deliberators. In addition, the issues chosen for deliberation should raise questions that have not yet been definitively answered. Members discussed some of the important features that deliberative processes should share, including agreeing upon established facts, engaging a diverse range of individuals with different perspectives, and encouraging mutual respect.

Third, they discussed recommending that scholars and others who use deliberative approaches should continue to assess the most effective methods of deliberation as a tool for policy making and public engagement in bioethics. For deliberation to be more widely used and supported as a form of public and political engagement, they felt that we need a better understanding of how different kinds of deliberation work and which work best in which contexts.

We will see you after the break at our next session!

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