The interview with Christine Nellemann was conducted during summer 2023. Since then, The Danish Council on Ethics has issued its recommendations for limit for free abortions as well as legalizing euthanasia.
Is everything up for debate—or are there sacred cows?
In the Danish Council on Ethics, everything is up for debate, and I think our chairperson makes sure to create an environment that encourages discussion of all issues. Because having the courage to ask some of the more controversial or provocative questions is inextricably linked to the prevailing mood.
These are also the kinds of forums we should be able to have at our universities and in society in general, where we find the time to listen and discuss complicated topics together.
I’ve been a member of an EU expert group tasked with looking at the green transition of the food system in the EU. Here, some of the researchers said, ‘well, we think that we’ve now been raising our voices for so long, and the politicians aren’t listening’, so they wanted to take a more agitating approach instead of relying purely on scientific knowledge in the hope of getting the politicians to act.
But that isn’t the way we should go because it isn’t conducive to an open debate. However, the open debate can be difficult to conduct on the big scene, and that’s why we need places like the Danish Council on Ethics, which has been set up to discuss and reflect on such issues and to have a dialogue over an extended period.
I think it could be exciting if we could get that debate going at different levels, but this first and foremost requires a safe space from which to roll out the debate.
How do you balance facts and feelings?
As members of the Danish Council on Ethics, we are actually asked to present arguments and assessments—and not opinions as such—at our meetings. You then end up making your position clear in conclusion, when the Council makes an official statement and the members decide what their personal position on it is—and the members’ views are presented in the published statement. The goal is to include all possible facts and aspects of the issue and consider them in the dialogue.
My experience is that your view can change during the process. So, you may have a gut feeling about a topic at the outset. But when you have heard all the presentations, read the reports, and discussed it, some of the members’ positions have actually changed from what they originally intuitively thought.
Good things take time—but does the Danish Council on Ethics take too long?
We’re actually discussing whether we could become a little more up to date, be a little more on the ball, so that we can report on various topics more quickly. Having said that, it’s a privilege that we can look at things for six months or a whole year and discuss and receive input from many sides and develop and mature our assessments—unlike, for example, politicians, who can be asked by a radio journalist in the morning to comment on what they think about abortion limits or something completely different.
The fact is that the technology develops very quickly in many different fields. And I think that the Danish Council on Ethics personally gives me the opportunity to stop and reflect more and be curious about what others think. I think that’s very valuable and something that I personally also get a lot out of.