Risk and Regulation: Voluntary Risk Assumption in Ethics, Law, & Regulatory Policy


Life is rife with risk. This unassailable observation is often meant to calm our nerves, to counsel serenity, to render risk acceptable in this or that case. As if to say, with so much risk abounding, why not just relax and accept it as a natural cost of living? We are naturally more discriminating. Especially regarding widely shared, societal risks induced by human artifice and susceptible to social regulation. Which risks are desirable? Which necessary? Which unacceptable? Which, in particular, have we some right to be protected against? And what regulatory measures do our rights enjoin, permit, or proscribe? The acceptability of risk is a complex matter ~ in part, as a function of the complexity of risk itself; in part, as a function of irreducible normative factors in the assessment of risk. Risk assessment—societal risk assessment—in the final analysis involves the weighing and balancing of competing societal interests and basic rights. 1 argue that current dispute about risk assessment and health and safety regulation has neglected crucial rights and conditions of choice, consent, and voluntary risk assumption



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