Tomorrow I will fly to Copenhagen, where, on Thursday March 3rd, I will give a seminar on the ethics of care robots at the Faculty of Public Health.
I will talk about the use of therapeutic companionship robots like the Paro robot by patients with mental disabilities such as dementia. The ethical debate has so far been focused mainly on the psychological benefits of Paro on the positive side, and on the risks of loss of human contact, infantilisation, and deception of patients on the negative side (here is a nice summary of the current ethical debate on Paro by Amanda Sharkey). In this talk, I will try to analyse the role of the patient’s consent. This topic hasn’t been much discussed, probably as it is implicitly assumed that people with mental disabilities like dementia simply cannot express any valid consent to their treatment; I will challenge this assumption by looking, among other things, at the recent legal debate on the legal consent to sexual intercourse by mentally disordered people, where it has been convincingly argued that failing to be fully rational and autonomous agents, mentally disordered people may still express, under certain conditions, some valid consent to perform activities that they see as desirable. If something similar may be argued in relation to the use of companionship robots by mentally disordered persons, then this might be an additional argument in favour of this use.
I look forward to this discussion for two reasons. First, the seminar will be at the faculty of public health, so I am expecting the audience to be particularly interested in medical ethics issues. Second, this will also be a reunion with my colleague and friend Ezio Di Nucci, with whom I’m editing a book on Drones and Responsibility. Hey, by the way, the book is almost done and will be out in the coming spring (here you can read a draft of the introduction)!