J Med Ethics 34:e22 doi:10.1136/jme.2007.023952
  • Research ethics
    • Electronic pages

Telesurgery: an ethical appraisal

  1. A van Wynsberghe,
  2. C Gastmans
  1. Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  1. A van Wynsberghe, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University Leuven, Kapucijnevoer 35, 3000 Leuven, Belgium; aimeevanwynsberghe{at}
  • Received 10 December 2007
  • Revised 25 January 2008
  • Accepted 31 January 2008


The aim of this article is to provide a preliminary ethical evaluation of the effect of telesurgery (long distance, remote surgery) on patient care. In order to accomplish this task we give a broad description of the state of the art in telesurgery and analyse it using Joan Tronto’s articulation of care as a structured process. This structure illuminates the significance of the patient-physician relationship as the buttress for establishing and preserving practices of care in the healthcare context, with the ultimate goal of safeguarding patient dignity. The process of care combined with the moral aim of medicine—to fulfil the good of the patient—provides the ethical foundation for assessing telesurgery. By exploring various telesurgical scenarios we may assess its potential role in augmenting or diminishing patient care within the frame of the patient-physician relationship. The significance of conducting this evaluation lies in the fact that the practice of telesurgery may very shortly become routine and an evaluation has not yet been attempted.


  • Competing interests: None.