Artificial intelligence may make life-and-death medical decisions

Research suggests a formula can be made to predict the kinds of ethical life-and-death choices people wish to make.

Computers may one day help doctors and those acting as surrogate decision-makers to better estimate the wishes of people in a coma.

By signing what is known as an "advance directive", people can specify what types of medical care they would want if they lost the ability to make decisions. Many people, however, do not complete such a directive in advance of these critical situations and their relatives or others must then decide on their behalf.

But how well can surrogates accurately predict the wishes of patients? Researchers have previously addressed this question by asking people how they would want to be treated in various hypothetical medical scenarios and, in a separate room, asking surrogates to guess what those responses had been. A review of 16 studies found that surrogates got it right only 68% of the time.

Ethicists caution that we should beware of abdicating responsibility for life-and-death medical decision-making to machines.

The data suggested that most people want life-saving treatment if there is at least a 1% chance that following the intervention they would have the ability to reason, remember and communicate. If there is less than a 1% chance, people generally say they would choose not to have the treatment.

But statistics do not tell the whole story.

PLoS Medicine (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040035)
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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.
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