Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics

pp 1-11

Date: Latest Version

Public Debate

  • David McPhersonAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Creighton University Email author 


Ethical issues in healthcare and biomedical research are often a matter of public debate. This entry will explore several prominent views on how such debate should be conducted within pluralistic democratic societies. It begins by considering John Rawls’s account of public reason. It then examines how this account applies to the controversial issues of abortion and physician-assisted suicide, where one can see why some have objected to this view, especially with regard to the way it requires citizens to bracket their comprehensive moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines. Next, this entry will consider some alternative approaches that endorse more expansive forms of public reason that allow greater room for appeals to comprehensive doctrines. While one might expect that many of the controversial issues in bioethics will continue to be a matter of public debate going forward, it will be seen that a necessary step towards making progress in these debates is to get clear on how such debate should be conducted.


Public debate Public reason Public policy Bioethics Religion and politics Abortion Physician-assisted suicide Liberalism Natural law ethics John Rawls John Finnis Michael Sandel Charles Taylor