Moral experts — people who presumably know more about moral issues than others — play an important role in giving advice to governments on how to deal with ethical questions through ethics committees. The existence of these committees raises fundamental normative questions concerning the limits and the legitimate role of moral experts in decision-making processes. It is contested whether moral expertise exists. However, it is difficult to have any meaningful understanding of these institutional arrangements if we cannot expect these moral experts to deliver good advice to governments. The assumption that moral expertise exists therefore underlies this thesis. In fact, the legitimacy of ethics committees is intimately connected to their members’ performance as moral experts, and it is therefore important to develop criteria to evaluate their performance. Therefore, in the first part of this thesis, relevant epistemic criteria for assessing deliberation of moral experts on ethics committees are developed on the basis of three overall concerns: logical validity, empirical soundness and normative reasonableness.
The European Commission has a vast number of advisory committees. For example the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) composed of philosophers, theologians, lawyers and scientists, is tasked with giving advice on ethical questions to the Commission through Opinions. In the second part of this thesis, the criteria developed are applied to EGE’s Opinion number 23 Ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply to evaluate the EGE’s work. Before applying the criteria to a concrete committee, a consideration as to whether the institutional context of the committee should delimit the criteria in any way is conducted.
The analysis shows that the EGE’s recommendations are logically valid. There are certain shortcomings on empirical soundness, mainly related to the use of references. By not presenting different ethical viewpoints and having a low degree of justification, normative reasonableness is the criterion that the EGE is furthest from meeting. After the analysis, the relevance of the criteria, possible explanations for these findings, policy implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.