CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Robot ad raises mental health issues

The Medical Humanities Blog reported on a controversial ad showing a robot having serious mental health issues.

According to the Medical Humanities Blog, 'The National Association of Mental Illness is furious about a commercial General Motors ran during the Super Bowl that depicted a GM manufacturing robot taking a suicidal leap from a bridge because it had made a mistake on the assembly line. The robot is fired because of GM's "obsession" with quality. In a letter to GM on February 7, NAMI warned that concerns over depictions of suicide in mass media have been raised in the past by the U.S. Surgeon General, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institute of Mental Health -- as well as groups like NAMI -- because of the risk of "suicide contagion," the clinical term for "copy cat" suicides. In addition, suicide rates increase as unemployment rises. GM has engaged in major restructuring that has caused many employees to lose their jobs, NAMI noted in its letter. "The irony is unbelievably callous," making the ad "even more distasteful."'

Kudos to the Medical Humanities Blog for raising this issue. Once robots pass the Turing test (very soon, according to polymath Ray Kurzweil and others), we may well be likely to see mental illness among highly evolved robots, as well as transcendence. But to make fun of an illness is sadistic, and, let's just say, unlikely to generate any positive karma. For the families that are struggling with suicide, the joke is simply not funny. Surely there are other ways to use humor in connection with 'artificial intelligence' poking fun at the human condition - ways other than mocking tragedy.

The Medical Humanities Blog makes a good case that the fact that standards are so low that few complaints were received does not make the issue any less ethically troubling. Notes the blog:

'GM's tepid response -- noting that the company had received a handful, but not a "tsunami" of complaints" -- did not improve matters. And regardless of one's position on the merits of NAMI's complaint (which, for the record, I find quite reasonable), assessing the worth of the point by reference to how many persons it seemed to bother probably isn't the most refined heuristic. The fact that majorities of people are not bothered by events does not alone imply their permissibility.'

What's good for GM may NOT be good for the country. Particularly a joke at others' expense.
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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