The blog of the 2009 – 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Roundtable: Brainstorming Ideas on Education and Deliberation

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) closed its discussion of democratic deliberation and bioethics education with a roundtable discussion involving Bioethics Commission members and presenters.

Amy Gutmann, chair of the Bioethics Commission, kicked off the session by asking the panelists to share their thoughts on how the Bioethics Commission could strengthen bioethics education and deliberation about important bioethical issues.

The following are highlights from the discussion:

Sir Roland Jackson, the Executive Chair of Sciencewise, commented that including diverse and expert voices is critical for good deliberation. “If you’re trying to encourage a deliberative process among the people who have the power and influence that matter, you need a wider group to deliberate,” he said.

Marion Danis, from the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health, noted that the citizenry would benefit from engaging with policymakers and lawmakers on a consistent basis, as opposed to strictly during election season. She asked the Bioethics Commission to “find a way to get governmental and organizational leaders to be more respectful of the efforts people have put in, and not just listen to people when they are trying to get elected.”

Florence Evans, a participant in a deliberative polling exercise, told the Bioethics Commission that, during her participation in What’s Next, California, the purpose of the deliberation was never made completely clear. She emphasized that for deliberation to be successful, participants need to understand the purpose of the exercise, and be able to answer the question: “to what end?”

Lisa M. Lee, Executive Director of the Bioethics Commission, emphasized the importance of starting ethics education from an early age. As she noted, ethical literacy is important for all of us in many contexts, because “all of us need skills to help us resolve ethical issues whether we are a plumber, physician, scientist or a surrogate decision maker.”

Seth Mnookin, Associate Director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, commented that for patients, honest, frank discussions with health care workers are a primary tool to aid medical decision-making. He urged similar face-to-face interaction between citizens and experts, noting, “Since we’re not about to have geneticists and chemists and physicists go out en masse and engage people one-on-one, I wonder if there is some way to take advantage of the fact that there is a very good ratio of citizen interactions with people who have a lot of scientific and medical training.”

Like Dr. Lee, Sue Knight, Curriculum Author of Primary Ethics Limited in Australia also emphasized the importance of starting ethics education early, noting, “education for ethical deliberation has to involve education in the processes of ethical reasoning.”

Robert Ladenson, Emeritus Faculty Associate at the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at the Illinois Institute of Technology, encouraged the Bioethics Commission to focus on how deliberation and education can complement and strengthen one another, and emphasized that “it’s going to be very important in pursuing both of these efforts not to lose sight of the other.”

Carol Ripple, Associate Director for Education Research and Engagement at the Duke University Social Science Research Institute, urged the Bioethics Commission to “encourage the idea of really identifying core competencies through education and through deliberation that you’re really looking to develop among  a particular audience and purpose.”

Raymond De Vries, Professor of Learning Health Science at the University of Michigan, noted that it is important for the Bioethics Commission to include a sociological perspective that understands the “structural, historical, social situation that explains where we are.”

John Gastil, Head and Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, asked that the Bioethics Commission prioritize a limited set of ideas and recommendations in its report and resist the urge to embrace a wide array of issues. “You are swimming in ideas,” he said. “I can’t imagine how great the temptation must be to go into all of these different places.”

That concludes the 22nd meeting of the Bioethics Commission. The Bioethics Commission is scheduled to meet again on November 17th in Washington, D.C. For details, go to


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This is a space for the members and staff of the 2009 -2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to communicate with the public about the work of the commission and to discuss important issues in bioethics.

As of January 15th, 2017 this blog will no longer be updated but continues to be available as an archive of the work of the 2009-2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Learn more about the 2009 - 2017 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.