Deliberation and Public Bioethics: A Test Case in Reproductive Genetics

Phenomenology and Mind 19 (19):150 (2020)
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Background. Since the nineties, policymakers and theorists working across several disciplines started to entertain the notion of directly engaging the public in matters of public concern. Accompanying this was the attempt to resort to deliberative democracy in order to make such an involvement effective. Seizing on its intrinsic dialogic nature, some scholars proposed the application of public deliberation to the realm of public bioethics. Drawing upon the theory and practice of deliberative public bioethics, the purpose of this paper is to shed light onto the figure of the bioethical expert and its role in public bioethics, and relatedly, to investigate how deliberation may be implemented in a public bioethics context. Methods. We set up a large-scale experiment to investigate whether, and to what extent, different moderation styles impact on participants’ moral preferences. The study combines a survey of a representative sample of the general population with a laboratory experiment based on a random sample of students that ex-ante has identical attitudes to the general population.Results. Findings show that: i) different moderation styles can significantly influence deliberative outcomes; iii) the effects of deliberation are not necessarily immediate, but may be revealed after the end of deliberative session; iii) participants tend to better appreciate a bioethical expert acting as “passive moderator”, namely as someone who acts in order to ensure non-domination and non-interference, thus allowing the creation of basic conditions for equality within the deliberative setting.Conclusions. Our experiment represents an example of how deliberation can be employed in public bioethics.



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