Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

SYMPOSIA: What Can Deliberation Do in and for Bioethics?: Deliberation, disagreement, and common morality (1124)

Simon Walker 1
  1. Bioethics Centre, University Of Otago, Dunedin, OTAGO, New Zealand

Deliberative methods are often used with the aim of identifying a consensus position that all parties can accept, irrespective of – or perhaps in the light of – the disagreements that are uncovered through the process. This aim reflects Habermas’s view that people of divergent views will arrive at a common position by exchanging reasons in an idealised deliberative forum. It also broadly aligns with the Kantian idea that moral truths are discerned through reasoning and founded in a notion of common humanity that is based in our capacity to reason.

In 2018 a citizens’ jury was conducted to learn whether a group of 15 New Zealanders thought the law should be changed to allow some form of euthanasia/assisted dying, having been informed about the issue, heard arguments, and having deliberated together. Rather than arriving at a consensus, the group become more polarized, with several changing their positions to either strong opposition or strong support. In this presentation I will outline what this citizens’ jury involved, and then consider what such sustained or entrenched disagreement means for the Kantian or Habermasian view of morality. I will argue that while such disagreement may indicate a limit on our ability to resolve moral differences through exchanging reasons, it does not therefore negate the Kantian concept of humanity. Rather, the identification of such limits can itself be a ‘humanising’ process, and this affirms the overarching Kantian claim. I will close with some brief remarks on what this may mean for policy.