Promises and Perils of Public Deliberation: Contrasting Two National Bioethics Commissions on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Cohen, Cynthia B.
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 2005 September; 15(3): 269-288
National bioethics commissions have struggled to develop ethically warranted methods for conducting their deliberations. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission in its report on stem cell research adopted an approach to public deliberation indebted to Rawls in that it sought common ground consistent with shared values and beliefs at the foundation of a well-ordered democracy. In contrast, although the research cloning and stem cell reports of the President's Council on Bioethics reveal that it broached two different methods of public deliberation--balancing goods and following an overarching moral principle--it adopted neither. Thereupon its primer mover, Leon Kass, influenced particularly by the approach of Leo Strauss, sought to develop a method of public deliberation guided by tradition and practical wisdom. When this failed, the Council fell back on a method that took account of shared fundamental values of a free democracy--a method remarkable akin to that employed by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Respect for diverse reasonable conceptions of the good in a democratic polity requires national bioethics commissions to seek and incorporate that which is valuable in opposing positions.
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