Bioethics & Attitudes

 

I am very much interested in popular attitudes on bioethical issues. Bioethical issues are an (increasingly) important subgroup of so-called morality issues: political questions that are linked to conflict over deep-seated beliefs and values.

Parliamentary Votes on PGD

Bioethics: there is a Christian Democratic / left-libertarian issue coalition

My interest in this field began with a puzzle: only under external pressure by the courts did Germany’s Bundestag lift the complete ban on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, a technique that identifies healthy embryos during IVF. The new rules are still fairly restrictive but could only be passed by a bare cross-partisan majority. Conversely, large segments of the German public seemed to support the new rules. I collected data on individual MPs and tried to identify the determinants of their voting behaviour. My analysis shows that a surprisingly large number of them was involved with religious organisations. Unsurprisingly, this is a strong predictor of voting against the new rules. Moreover, partisanship matters although the vote was free. Controlling for other factors, both Christian Democrats and the Greens were more opposed to the new law than other MPs. This is the fabled blue-green issue coalition. The results were published as an open access article in Research and Politics.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Strange Bedfellows: The Bundestag’s Free Vote on Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) Reveals How Germany’s Restrictive Bioethics Legislation is Shaped by a Christian Democratic/New Left Issue-Coalition.” Research and Politics 2.3 (2015): 1–7.
    [BibTeX] [Download PDF] [HTML] [DATA]
    @Article{arzheimer-2015d,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Strange Bedfellows: The Bundestag's Free Vote on Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) Reveals How Germany's Restrictive Bioethics Legislation is Shaped by a Christian Democratic/New Left Issue-Coalition},
    journal = {Research and Politics},
    year = 2015,
    doi = 10.1177/2053168015601130,
    html = {http://rap.sagepub.com/content/2/3/2053168015601130},
    url = {http://rap.sagepub.com/content/2/3/2053168015601130.full.pdf},
    data = {http://hdl.handle.net/10.7910/DVN/KG38OG},
    pages = {1--7},
    number = {3},
    volume = {2}
    }

Citizens’s Views on Genetic Testing (PGD)

Genetic testing: citizens are more permissive than representatives

I found this so intriguing that I wanted to know more about how ordinary people think about these issues, so I conducted (with the generous support of Germany’s National Science Foundation) a representative population survey. The survey had a large experimental component: about 1000 respondents could chose from the three options debated in parliament, while another 1000 respondents had two additional choices modelled after the (much) more permissive laws in Belgium and the UK. Participants were then confronted with 16 arguments raised during the plenary debate. Finally, they had to chose again. Citizens turned out to be much more permissive than their MPs. Hearing what their representatives had to say did not change this at all. Arguments in favour of PGD were widely accepted, arguments against PGD were mostly rejected. The underlying reason are that levels of religiosity are far lower than in parliament, whereas secular views are widespread. This has consequences beyond the specific issue of PGD. The article (which does discuss these consequences and much more) appears as open access in Political Research Exchange. Replication data are freely available.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “Secular Citizens, Pious MPs: Why German Attitudes About Genetic Testing Are Much More Permissive Than German Laws.” Political Research Exchange 2.1 (2020). doi:10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF] [HTML] [DATA]

    Germany has lifted its total ban on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD, a form of genetic testing), but the new rules are still much stricter than those in other European countries. Results from a large-scale survey experiment show that the general population holds more permissive views on this bio-ethical question than lawmakers. In a country seen as a paradigm for the “religious world” of morality politics, many citizens even support further liberalisation along the lines of legislation in Belgium and the UK. Induced reflection on the arguments raised in parliament does not change this: arguments in favour of PGD are widely accepted by respondents, whereas many citizens reject the arguments against PGD. Citzens’ and MPs’ respective evaluations are affected strongly by religiosity, whose levels in the population are much lower than in parliament. Widespread secular views are not adequately represented in politics. This does not only concern the regulation of PGD but also other current and future bioethical issues. It is unlikely that this tension can be resolved through electoral politics. These findings have important ramifications not just for practical morality politics in Germany and other “religious world” countries but also for the two worlds framework itself.

    @Article{arzheimer-2020b,
    author = {Arzheimer, Kai},
    title = {Secular Citizens, Pious MPs: Why German Attitudes About Genetic
    Testing Are Much More Permissive Than German Laws},
    html = {https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693},
    journal = {Political Research Exchange},
    url = {https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693?needAccess=true},
    year = 2020,
    volume = {2},
    number = {1},
    abstract = {Germany has lifted its total ban on Preimplantation Genetic
    Diagnosis (PGD, a form of genetic testing), but the new rules are
    still much stricter than those in other European countries. Results
    from a large-scale survey experiment show that the general
    population holds more permissive views on this bio-ethical question
    than lawmakers. In a country seen as a paradigm for the "religious
    world" of morality politics, many citizens even support further
    liberalisation along the lines of legislation in Belgium and the
    UK. Induced reflection on the arguments raised in parliament does
    not change this: arguments in favour of PGD are widely accepted by
    respondents, whereas many citizens reject the arguments against
    PGD. Citzens' and MPs' respective evaluations are affected strongly
    by religiosity, whose levels in the population are much lower than
    in parliament. Widespread secular views are not adequately
    represented in politics. This does not only concern the regulation
    of PGD but also other current and future bioethical issues. It is
    unlikely that this tension can be resolved through electoral
    politics. These findings have important ramifications not just for
    practical morality politics in Germany and other "religious world"
    countries but also for the two worlds framework itself.},
    html = {https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693},
    url = {https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693?needAccess=true},
    data = {https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/PY9TBQ},
    doi = {10.1080/2474736X.2020.1765693},
    dateadded = {28-03-2020}
    }

A micro-level test of the two-worlds theory

Germany is a religious world country, but its population is more and more secular

The most important comparative theory for explaining differences in morality policy making is the two-worlds framework championed by Engeli, Green-Pedersen & Larsen. As a cleavage theory, the two-worlds framework operates at the macro and meso-levels, but to be plausible, some relationships at the micro-level must hold. In a shorter article, I derive these (largely implicit) assumptions from the theory and test them using Structural Equation Modelling techniques. Relationships at the micro-level are compatible with the two-world framework, but the findings raise some new questions regarding the role of parties and religious actors in secularising societies. The full article appears as open access in Research & Politics. Replication scripts and data are freely available.

  • Arzheimer, Kai. “A partial micro-foundation for the ‘two-worlds’ theory of morality policymaking: Evidence from Germany.” Research & Politics 7.2 (2020). doi:10.1177/2053168020917823
    [BibTeX] [Abstract] [Download PDF] [HTML] [DATA]

    The two-worlds framework is currently the most important account of morality policymaking in Europe. For this theory of elite behaviour to be valid, a number of implicit assumptions about political belief systems at the mass level must hold. This contribution spells out these assumptions and tests them within a structural equation modelling framework, using original survey data from Germany, a country that constitutes a crucial case for the two-worlds theory. The results showed that the implicit individual-level preconditions of the two-worlds framework were fulfilled. Political secularism and partisanship were strongly associated. Political secularism also had strong effects on morality policy preferences regarding the preferred regulation of abortion, embryo and stem cell research, and gene therapies, even when controlling for a host of background variables. However, the size of the effects did not vary across politicised and non-politicised issues. This casts some doubt over the ability of partisan actors to unilaterally control the morality policy agenda.

    @Article{arzheimer-2020c,
    author = {Kai Arzheimer},
    title = {A partial micro-foundation for the 'two-worlds' theory of morality
    policymaking: Evidence from Germany},
    journal = {Research \& Politics},
    year = 2020,
    volume = 7,
    number = 2,
    abstract = {The two-worlds framework is currently the most important account of
    morality policymaking in Europe. For this theory of elite behaviour
    to be valid, a number of implicit assumptions about political
    belief systems at the mass level must hold. This contribution
    spells out these assumptions and tests them within a structural
    equation modelling framework, using original survey data from
    Germany, a country that constitutes a crucial case for the
    two-worlds theory. The results showed that the implicit
    individual-level preconditions of the two-worlds framework were
    fulfilled. Political secularism and partisanship were strongly
    associated. Political secularism also had strong effects on
    morality policy preferences regarding the preferred regulation of
    abortion, embryo and stem cell research, and gene therapies, even
    when controlling for a host of background variables. However, the
    size of the effects did not vary across politicised and
    non-politicised issues. This casts some doubt over the ability of
    partisan actors to unilaterally control the morality policy
    agenda.},
    dateadded = {28-03-2020},
    url = {https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2053168020917823},
    data = {https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/2MIWPN},
    html = {https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2053168020917823},
    keywords = {bioethik},
    doi = {10.1177/2053168020917823}
    }