The Missions of National Commissions: Mapping the Forms and Functions of Bioethics Advisory Bodies


The findings, conclusions, and recommendations of national ethics commissions (NECs) have received considerable attention throughout the 40-year history of these groups in the United States and worldwide. However, the procedures or types of argument by which these bodies arrive at their decisions have received far less scrutiny. This paper explores how the diversity of ethical principles, concepts, or theories is featured in publications or decisions of these bodies, with particular emphasis on the need for NECs to be inclusive of pluralist positions that typically exist in contemporary democracies. The discussion is centered on the extent to which NECs may focus on providing focal frameworks, primarily framing the ethical issues at stake, or normative frameworks, additionally providing transparent justifications for any conclusions and recommendations that are made. The structure allows for assessments of the relative merits and drawbacks of different approaches in both theory and practice.