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Regulating the Life Sciences, Pluralism and the Limits of Deliberative Democracy

Roger Brownsword

(2010) 22 SAcLJ 801

This article considers to what extent processes of public engagement and deliberative democracy are appropriate in pluralistic communities, where there are many different views about the “acceptability” of emerging life science technologies. It argues that, where the pluralism arises from (a) a variety of self-interested prudential judgments or (b) competing interpretations of shared baseline ethical values (so-called “closed ethical pluralism”), then deliberative democracy is an appropriate regulatory approach. However, where regulators face conditions of “open ethical pluralism”, where baseline values are contested, it is less clear that deliberative democracy can work. In the most challenging cases of open ethical pluralism, it is not sufficient for regulators to appeal to the integrity of the decision-making process; here, the final regulatory appeal is to the shared aspiration to build a moral community.