ing position B follow mutatis mutandis the same chain of reasoning, the result may be characterized as a procedural, as opposed to a substantive, compromise.

Though less desirable than substantive consensus or substantive compromise, employment of majority rule under such circumstances is fair to all committee members. What would be unfair, however, is resorting to vote-taking without the consent of all committee members and then attributing the results to the committee as a whole. A majority position, under such conditions, is attributable only to those who voted for that position, and not to those who were opposed to settling the matter by vote-taking. Where a resort to vote-taking is a product of procedural consensus and represents procedural compromise, however, the outcome is endorsed by and attributable to the group as a whole.

Following customary usage, I have to this point restricted the term consensus" to pre- and postdeliberative complete consensus and overlapping consensus. But because both compromise and majority rule contain elements of consensus and are sometimes employed by ethics committees and commissions, I consider them as forms of consensus in what follows.


Arguments for consensus may be either strategic or normative. Strategic considerations emphasize the instrumental value of consensus. The principal value of consensus is, on this view, its contribution to obtaining external acceptance and implementation of a group's recommendations. Normative arguments center on a more direct connection between consensus and moral rightness; consensus is regarded as adding substantive value or weight to the recommendations of an ethics committee or commission. I discuss strategic considerations in this section and normative considerations in the next.

In an article describing and defending the structure and operation of the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Commission Chairman Morris B. Abram and attorney Susan M. Wolf emphasize the practical importance of virtual unanimity or consensus among the commission's members:

A Commission such as this one has only the power of persuasion. A group performing ethical analysis with no coercive powers cannot be persuasive without internal agreement. Unlike a court or legislature, which is structured to have effect as long as a majority agrees, a commission requires agreement that is as close to unanimity as possible, to have any effect at all. Without such virtual unanimity, the commission members simply voice possible arguments; with it the commission can persuade. The commission method thus forces the commissioners to find areas of common accord [Abram and Wolf, 1984, p. 629].

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