This paper considers the legislative debates in Australia that led to the passage of the Research Involving Human Embryos Act (Cth 2002) and the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act (Cth 2002). In the first part of the paper, we discuss the debate surrounding the legislation with particular emphasis on the ways in which demands for public consultation, public debate and the education of Australians about the potential ethical and scientific impact of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) research were deployed, and the explicit and implicit framing of the scope of public consultation. We then ask whether, given the calls for public consultations, debate and understanding, current work in democratic theory could be helpful in analysing the process of policy-making in these areas. In particular, we canvass the literature relating to aggregative and deliberative models of democracy for processes that support the legitimacy of policy. We identify features of the debate that reflect the appeal of deliberative approaches as well as some of the possible hurdles or limitations to developing deliberative democratic approaches to policy in ethically contentious areas.