Algorithms for Ethical Decision-Making in the Clinic: A Proof of Concept

American Journal of Bioethics 22 (7):4-20 (2022)
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Machine intelligence already helps medical staff with a number of tasks. Ethical decision-making, however, has not been handed over to computers. In this proof-of-concept study, we show how an algorithm based on Beauchamp and Childress’ prima-facie principles could be employed to advise on a range of moral dilemma situations that occur in medical institutions. We explain why we chose fuzzy cognitive maps to set up the advisory system and how we utilized machine learning to train it. We report on the difficult task of operationalizing the principles of beneficence, non-maleficence and patient autonomy, and describe how we selected suitable input parameters that we extracted from a training dataset of clinical cases. The first performance results are promising, but an algorithmic approach to ethics also comes with several weaknesses and limitations. Should one really entrust the sensitive domain of clinical ethics to machine intelligence?

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Author Profiles

Alena Buyx
Technical University of Munich
Lukas J. Meier
Cambridge University

References found in this work

Principles of biomedical ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by James F. Childress.
A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Utilitarianism.J. S. Mill - 1861 - Oxford University Press UK. Edited by Roger Crisp.
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.Jeremy Bentham - 1780 - New York: Dover Publications. Edited by J. H. Burns & H. L. A. Hart.

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