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Ethics of socially assistive robots in aged-care settings: a socio-historical contextualisation
  1. Tijs Vandemeulebroucke1,
  2. Bernadette Dierckx de Casterlé2,
  3. Chris Gastmans1
  1. 1 Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, KU Leuven, Leuven, Flemisch Brabant, Belgium
  2. 2 Academic Centre for Nursing and Midwifery, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, KU Leuven, Leuven, Flemisch Brabant, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Tijs Vandemeulebroucke, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; tijs.vandemeulebroucke{at}


Different embodiments of technology permeate all layers of public and private domains in society. In the public domain of aged care, attention is increasingly focused on the use of socially assistive robots (SARs) supporting caregivers and older adults to guarantee that older adults receive care. The introduction of SARs in aged-care contexts is joint by intensive empirical and philosophical research. Although these efforts merit praise, current empirical and philosophical research are still too far separated. Strengthening the connection between these two fields is crucial to have a full understanding of the ethical impact of these technological artefacts. To bridge this gap, we propose a philosophical-ethical framework for SAR use, one that is grounded in the dialogue between empirical-ethical knowledge about and philosophical-ethical reflection on SAR use. We highlight the importance of considering the intuitions of older adults and their caregivers in this framework. Grounding philosophical-ethical reflection in these intuitions opens the ethics of SAR use in aged care to its own socio-historical contextualisation. Referring to the work of Margaret Urban Walker, Joan Tronto and Andrew Feenberg, it is argued that this socio-historical contextualisation of the ethics of SAR use already has strong philosophical underpinnings. Moreover, this contextualisation enables us to formulate a rudimentary decision-making process about SAR use in aged care which rests on three pillars: (1) stakeholders’ intuitions about SAR use as sources of knowledge; (2) interpretative dialogues as democratic spaces to discuss the ethics of SAR use; (3) the concretisation of ethics in SAR use.

  • philosophical ethics
  • philosophy of nursing
  • social control of science/technology
  • information technology
  • aged

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  • Contributors TV, BDdC and CG all participated in drafting this manuscript. TV was responsible for the writing, editing and revising of the manuscript in close cooperation with CG. BDdC contributed to the editing and revising of the manuscript. All authors contributed also substantially to the design and conception of the manuscript and provided final approval of the completed manuscript. All authors accept accountability for all aspect of the work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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