Health Care Analysis

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 397–409 | Cite as

Representation or Reason: Consulting the Public on the Ethics of Health Policy

  • Caroline Mullen
Original Article


Consulting the public about the ethical approaches underlying health policies can seem an appealing means of addressing concerns about limited public participation in development of health policy. However ambiguity surrounds questions of whether, or how consultation can really contribute to more defensible decisions about ethical aspects of policy. This paper clarifies the role and limits of public consultation on ethics, beginning by separating different senses of defensibility in decisions on ethics. Defensibility of ethical decisions could be understood either in the sense of legitimacy in virtue of reflecting the opinions of the public whose interests are affected, or in the sense of being able to withstand and respond to challenges presented in ethical debate. The question then is whether there are forms of consultation which have the potential to realise more defensible decisions in either of these senses. Problems of adequately accounting for the views of those affected by policy decisions casts doubt on the plausibility of using consultation as a means of determining the opinions of the public. Consultation can have a role by bringing new ideas and challenges to debate, although it is uncertain whether this will increase the defensibility of any decision on ethics.


Consultation Democracy Ethics Moral argument Health policy Public participation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of Global EthicsUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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