The Problem of “Relevant Experience”
In their intriguing article “Bioethics and the Moral Authority of Experience,” Nelson and colleagues (2023) provide important insight into an important ethical problem. We frequently demand that those participating in a decision have relevant experience. But we also worry that a person’s cognitive judgment may be warped if they have a certain experience: They may lack objectivity or they might be “too close” to a situation. The authors offer examples where this dilemma arises, involving abortion, drug approval, and disability bioethics. The authors offer a description of the problem, and then build a normative framework. I complicate and clarify on both fronts by asking what counts as a “relevant experience” that can either qualify or disqualify a participant in a decision. Descriptively, I provide a taxonomy of “experience” that would enrich the authors’ framework. Normatively, I explore the concept of “relevance.” After a descriptive clarification, I argue that the normative stakes are better understood as arising from substantive and procedural justice considerations.