L'éthique en comités
Journal International de Bioéthique = International Journal of Bioethics 2007 March-June; 18(1-2): 35-46
The management of techno-scientific and multicultural societies, open and evolving, can neither be conceived nor carried out on the basis of fundamentalist, essentialist rules that are characteristic of closed, immobile societies. Within a global civilisation, fundamentalisms are only acceptable as individual or community beliefs. Against the background of our civilisation on the chaotic road to globalisation described here, what are the methodological rules for bioethics committees? A first rule concerns the composition of the committees: it must be multidisciplinary and pluralist. The second rule concerns the distinction of types, which is less evident at a time which cultivates postmodernism. The "types" which absolutely must be distinguished are: science, ethics, morals, law, politics. The third rule concerns the concluding procedures. A majority vote procedure after information and limited discussion makes it possible to conclude easily and rapidly. But it generally seems not to be very ethical, especially if it does not allow minorities to have their divergent opinions appear among the conclusions in an explicit argued manner. The "lazy dissensus" must, however also be avoided: it consists in not really engaging the interdisciplinary, pluralist discussion, simply exposing and explaining each position, on the pretext that pluralism is respecting diversity, the freedom to believe, to think and to express oneself either each for himself or in the name of one's community or tradition. This sort of "postmodern" methodology, individualistic and communitarian to an extreme, is precariously balanced in relation to the committee's ethical vocation. It is therefore very important that an ethics committee really engages in discussion and expresses, let's say, a preference for consensus. This preference is the expression of its "ethical" nature: in this word (as in the word "moral", in fact), there is a reference to what is common, to what unites and makes social life possible. The aim of consensus, the idea that it is better to get on than to ignore each other or oppose each other; is methodologically prevalent in ethics. But on the express condition that the agreement is freely and consciously accepted. The symmetrical danger to that of "lazy dissensus" which loses sight of the aim of agreement, is "forced consensus". Pragmatic consensuses are extremely precious and even indispensable in our complex societies if we want to set up common operating rules while preserving the freedom to think and the diversity of beliefs. They also ensure that it is possible to re-open the debate: a pragmatic agreement is on a different scale from an essentialist dogma or a fundamentalist norm, which try to regulate not only behaviour but also thought.
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