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End-of-Life Computer

April 2, 2007

Computers could help people make end-of-life medical decisions for their loved ones.


Death by computer. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Computers could someday make end-of-life decisions for people who can’t communicate and haven’t left a record of their wishes. Bioethicist David Wendler of the National Institutes of Health says the program predicts what medical care people would want based on the preferences of similar people. Even with just a little data, the program guesses with the same accuracy as family members—about 70 percent. Wendler says more data could up that to 90 percent.

DAVID WENDLER (National Institutes of Health):
Our findings show I can do a better job at predicting your end-of-life treatment preferences by looking at the preferences of people who are like you in similar ways—age, gender, race, religion, etc.—than I can by asking your wife who you’ve been married to for 40 years.

Why that is, and how that wife would feel about letting a computer decide her husband’s fate, still aren’t known. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.