Deliberative democracy and stem cell research in new York state: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 19 (1):pp. 63-78 (2009)
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Many states in the U.S. have adopted policies regarding human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in the last few years. Some have arrived at these policies through legislative debate, some by referendum, and some by executive order. New York has chosen a unique structure for addressing policy decisions regarding this morally controversial issue by creating the Empire State Stem Cell Board with two Committees—an Ethics Committee and a Funding Committee. This essay explores the pros and cons of various policy arrangements for making public policy decisions about morally controversial issues in bioethics (as well as other issues) through the lens of Deliberative Democracy, focusing on the principles of reciprocity, publicity, and accountability. Although New York's unique mechanism potentially offers an opportunity to make policy decisions regarding a morally controversial subject like hESC research in accord with the principles of Deliberative Democracy, this essay demonstrates its failure to do so in actual fact. A few relatively simple changes could make New York's program a real model for putting Deliberative Democracy into practice in making policy decisions regarding controversial bioethical issues.



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Daniel Sulmasy
Georgetown University

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