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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jul;73(2):209-16. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.005. Epub 2011 Jun 1.

Stock options, tax credits or employment contracts please! The value of deliberative public disagreement about human tissue donation.

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Department of Journalism, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


'Deliberative democracy' is increasingly popular globally, as a means of securing public engagement with emerging health technologies and democratizing their governance. Architects of deliberative 'mini-publics' have tended, however, to privilege consensus within deliberation and the generation of 'action commitments' within a 'decisional context', despite widespread critique. Less attention has been paid to the phenomenon of persistent disagreement within constructed deliberative fora. This paper addresses this lacuna, performing a narrative analysis of four days of deliberation within one small group of demographically diverse public participants at the BC Biobank Deliberation (Vancouver, Canada, 2007). It reveals the value of listening to persistent deliberative disagreements. First, this paper argues that disagreements enable identification of deliberation and evaluation of its quality. Second, they generate insight into the deliberative process and the discursive means through which consensus can be achieved. Third, persistent deliberative disagreements can be creative of innovative governance solutions. In the case of the BC Biobank Deliberation, disagreements about compensation for biobank donors generated a range of suggestions for mediating between donor rights, corporate interests and societal needs--from tissue sample rentals to donor tax credits--suggestions that are unique to the existing academic and policy literature. Finally, this paper argues that practitioners should present persistent disagreements to public and policy audiences as an 'output' of deliberative democracy events.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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