Given the country’s lack of a strong Catholic culture, extraordinarily high levels of medical expenditure, and the dominance of private-sector actors in the health market, the regulation of bioethical issues in Germany is surprisingly restrictive. Recent legislation on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a case in point: Only under considerable external pressure and with a bare cross-partisan parliamentary majority did Germany move from a complete ban to a new set of rules that are still much more restrictive than those in Belgium or the UK.
An analysis of legislators’ preferences (Arzheimer 2015) suggests that comparatively high levels of religiosity as well as the existence of a ‘blue-green’ issue coalition is responsible for this restraint. Citizens, on the other hand, seemed to show higher levels of support for the new regime and perhaps even support for further liberalisation. Although PGD is currently a niche issue, the existence of such a representational gap demands scholarly and political attention, because the ethical issues associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and other advanced medical techniques will become more and more salient in Western societies in the coming years.
In my talk, I will present first findings from a large-scale survey experiments that looks into the preferences of the general public on PGD and a number of similar issues. More specifically, I investigate four inter-related questions:
1) Is there indeed a sizeable gap between MPs’ and citizens’ preferences on PGD?
2) Would citizens support a further liberalisation of the PGD regime?
3) Are citizens’ preferences shaped by the same determinants as those of their MPs?
4) Can the gap between citizens and MPs be narrowed by making citizens reflect on arguments from a parliamentary debate?
Germany’s restrictive bioethics legislation in general, and its very tight rules on embryology and fertilisation in particular, present a puzzle for political science. Early on, the country has enacted liberal rules in other moral policy domains, most notably the abortion law of 1975 (Richardt, 2003: 113). The full range of prenatal diagnosis is available to German women, and the 1995 amendment has de facto legalised late abortions of otherwise viable babies with genetic or other defects right up to the moment of birth (Hashiloni-Dolev, 2007: 85) Yet, paradoxically, Germany’s 1990 Embryo Protection Act (EPA, 1990) gives absolute protection to fertilised eggs (zygotes)1 before implantation in the womb and so remains “one of the strictest laws on human embryology and fertilization in Europe” (Richardt, 2003: 112).