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Autonomy, shared agency and prediction
  1. Sungwoo Um
  1. Department of Ethics Education, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea (the Republic of)
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sungwoo Um, Department of Ethics Education, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea (the Republic of); sungwooum{at}

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The patient preference predictor (PPP) is a computer-based algorithm devised to predict the medical treatment that decisionally incapacitated patients would have preferred. The target paper argues against various criticisms to the effect that the use of a PPP is inconsistent with proper respect for patient autonomy.1 In this commentary, I aim to add some clarifications to the complex relationship between autonomy and the PPP. First, I highlight one way in which the decision of a surrogate designated by the patient realises respect for patient autonomy in a way that PPP cannot realise by introducing the idea of shared agency. Second, I show how the attempt to predict someone’s hypothetical choice can be disrespectful to her autonomy.

Shared agency and autonomy

Following the treatment decision of a surrogate designated by the patient counts as a way of respecting the patient’s own autonomy. Designating someone as one’s surrogate is a case of entrusting her with the task of making important life decisions on one’s behalf. To entrust someone with a certain matter is to assign her the responsibility for that matter based on the trust that she will take a good care of it. When a patient entrusts a surrogate decision-maker, what is the matter that she is trusted to take a good care of? In many contexts, the surrogate is r egarded as an epistemic proxy, one who is likely to know the patient’s preferences the best. It is often thought that the point of practising surrogate decision making is to respect the patient’s autonomy by following what the patient most likely would have preferred. Using a PPP in the decision-making process has the same goal of making a more accurate prediction of the patient’s treatment preference.

However, at least in some cases, designating the patient’s intimates or ones she loves and cares …

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  • Funding This study was funded by the New Faculty Startup Fund from Seoul National University.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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