Modern palliative care, as it was founded in the 1960s and 1970s in England and later taken up and developed in many countries across the world, has been conceptualized as an alternative or even opposition to life-prolonging, organ-centered and disease-modifying medicine. As opposed to high-tech medicine it has been term ‘low-tech, high-touch care’. Yet, this tradition has recently been modified and more and more technological tools and processes have been incorporated into palliative care, alongside the move towards early integration during the disease trajectory of a patient: artificial intelligence is being harnessed for diagnostic and prognostic tools, medication is administered by the way of patient-controlled pumps and novel devices, targeted radiological and surgical interventions are attempted to control symptoms, home monitoring and telemedicine are applied to quickly respond to needs at home, and social robots help to sooth loneliness and psychosocial distress, especially in the elderly.
The growing paradigm of what can be called technology-enabled palliative care raises the question how it relates to the foundational identity of palliative care: Are these technologies compatible with the moral attitudes and virtues of palliative care professionals? Under which circumstances do they enhance the wellbeing of patients and their families? How can the risk be avoided that technology replaces interpersonal human care that is so particularly essential at the end of life? And what consequences do these ethical questions mean for palliative care institutions, technology developers, health policymakers, and society?
This presentation will discuss these questions from an ethical point of view. It will analyze potential responses and show how technology-enabled palliative care can still be patient-centered, humanistic palliative care. In fact, palliative care may even become a paradigmatic model of how the medicine of the future can harmonize technological and interpersonal approaches in an intelligent and responsible way.
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