Ethics Experts as an Instrument of Technocratic Governance: Evidence from EU Medical Biotechnology Policy

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Abstract

This article challenges the assumption that ethics committees introduce democratic control in policy areas where scientific expertise and ethical concerns collide. The claim is that politicians or bureaucrats are likely to resort to the use of ethical expertise when they face a specific type of dilemma: the impossibility, on the one hand, of yielding a consensus on controversial value-based issues via the democratic route and the need, on the other, to legitimize controversial policy choices in these areas. The article examines this dynamic with regard to the European Union's medical biotechnology policy, a contested policy domain where ethical specialists are awarded expert status. The article finds that establishing ethical experts as a new category of expertise alongside scientific experts actually bolsters the technocratic domain in areas where it is contested, thus reinforcing the authority of experts and bureaucrats in the policy process, rather than democratic control.

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