Ethical Considerations in the Use of Assistive Technologies

According to Beauchamp and Childress (2001, p. 78), the use of technology in the treatment and management of dementia is widespread. One such technology is assistive technology which is being used to provide medical solutions and services. Sommerville (2003) indicates that its potential can be misused. Ethically, the wishes of users of assistive medical technology are often ignored. Areas of ethical concerns as listed in the article by Beauchamp and Childress (2001) focus on types of telecare devices that are used for monitoring and since they affect privacy and installation of devices without the consent of dementia patients. Such devices also pose fear that may aggravate a patient’s medical condition.

Assistive technology is an advancement in modern medicine. It is used to offer personal care and mobility in a manner that enhances the ability of a patient to perform normal duties. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that ethical considerations are adhered to strictly in order to reduce negative effects on patients. Researchers agree that most patients with dementia or those who are mentally challenged often experience reduced ability to determine what to do at any specific time. As such, there is a need for adequate planning when the capacities of patients are restricted. Loughlin (2002, p. 103) argues that patients have a right to understand the options available for their treatment and if possible, whether they are willing to use the technology.

From an ethical point of view, analysts have indicated their concerns in the matter in which this service is provided. According to the rights theory, an individual should be able to enjoy specific autonomy that arises from his or her own status. In modern medicine, the principle of autonomy calls for respect of choice and privacy. Hughes and Baldwin (2006, p. 309) point out that although assistive technology is helpful, it infringes on patients’ rights. Even if the device is designed to act in the best interest of a patient, monitoring affects an individual’s privacy.

According to Barnes (2006, p. 320), the use of assistive technology presents several limitations owing to lack of safety. Even though this has been disputed by some critics, the argument is that it is a direct disregard for the ethical validity of choice. Notably, most dementia patients who use assistive technology cannot be able to make the correct decision regarding such an involving issue. Besides, it is the concerned parents and other close acquaintances who are directly involved in the decision-making process. By analyzing Barnes’ argument from this point of view, it is clear that little focus is usually given to the safety of patients who move during the night. A door sensor might act as a security tool but cannot solve the problem of searching for social contact. Therefore, the question of alternatives to the technological solution arises. Is there an alternative? Can it be replaced with human assistance to aid those wishing to go out at night? In fact, the technology should not be used as a quick fix for dementia patients (Lowe 2009, p. 1080). Alternative approaches that factor in the wishes, needs and abilities of persons with dementia ought to be considered.

Besides, employing assistive technology requires the user’s living arrangements to be put into consideration. Apart from personal motivations and preferences, Sommerville (2003, p. 284) is of the view that the needs of a patient, care givers as well as family members are critical in ensuring that assistive devices work perfectly well. Most importantly, the involvement of caregivers ensures that anxieties and personal fears related to assistive technologies are resolved. Ethically, it becomes possible for them to give greater focus to the benefits associated with the service.


Barnes, M 2006, Caring and Social Justice, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke.

Beauchamp, L & Childress, AF 2001, Principles of Biomedical Ethics (5th ed), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Loughlin, M 2002, Ethics, management and Mythology, Radcliffe Medical Press, Abingdon.

Lowe, C 2009, “Beyond Telecare – the future of independent living,” Journal of Assistive Technologies vol. 3 no. 1, pp. 87-93.

Sommerville, J 2003, “Juggling law, ethics and intuition: practical answers to awkward questions,” Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 29 no. 3, pp. 281-286.

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