Field Notes

Article excerpt

The Ethics of Facilitating Sausage-Making. You know the saying: There are two things you don't ever want to watch being made--sausage and policy. The saying assumes that both sausage and policy are everyday parts of our lives, that we consume them regularly, that we might wonder what goes into them, and that observing this process will shatter any illusions we might have concerning the purity of the constituent parts. As the nineteenth century English journalist Walter Bagehot famously wrote, "We must not let daylight in upon the magic." He was referring to the doings of the British royal family, but the principle is the same: there are some things you don't want to know too much about or see too clearly.

Sausages (and kings) are simple, really, compared to policy. First, there's the matter of definitions. By "policy," do we mean public policy, such as the laws and regulations that protect public health or promote social welfare? Do we mean the internal policies that apply to members of professions and employees of institutions? Do we mean almost any activity of any branch or member of government: increasing or cutting the budget of the National Institutes of Health; capping malpractice awards; reversing a position on stem cell research? Do we mean advocacy, or even lobbying? Do we mean something that is related to but distinct from ethics, as in "ethics and policy," or do we regard policy as always having an ethical basis of some sort? We might not be in favor of a policy that would permit people to sell their own organs for transplant, but we can discern the problematic ethics underlying such a policy. …


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