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Digital Technologies and the Good Life: Ethical Challenges of "Digital Health"

by Dr. Alina Omerbasic-Schiliro

Given the current problems in the healthcare system caused, among other things, by general resource scarcity, the possibility of improving healthcare through digital networking and new technologies appears not only enticing but also as the next logical step in a process of continuous change in medicine. However, as experiences with digitization in other areas of life have shown, it can have both enhancing and less desirable effects. For example, the introduction of digital communication tools and internet- and mobile-based interventions may have contributed to maintaining frequent contact with distant friends and relatives or reaching therapists in acute situations. However, it also seems to lead to heightened expectations, overwhelm, entitlement, and the disappearance of meaningful conversations, boundaries, and commitments. Similarly, the introduction of big data-based systems could not only exacerbate current problems and controversies in healthcare but also generate new ones.

The task of ethics in the debate about digitization in healthcare is to first identify the moral problems and value conflicts arising from the implementation of digital technologies. However, since the same implementation of tools in different areas of life raises different questions and issues, establishing an "ethics of digitization" as an all-encompassing normative theory guiding human action in the context of digitization seems hardly possible. Rather, an application- and context-sensitive analysis of possible opportunities and problems of implementing specific tools is recommended, from which insights for the question of implementing other but similarly structured technical solutions can also be derived.

As the umbrella term "Digital Health" now encompasses an overwhelming number of approaches to merging various digital solutions with everyday life, health maintenance, and disease management, this project will focus less on specific technologies and more on the underlying common value conflicts. The aim is to contribute to raising awareness among both users and manufacturers about how the implementation and use of digital tools can subtly influence the much-discussed "good life" in philosophy and create problems. A particular focus of this project is on exploring the value conflicts that arise and the individual and societal consequences they may entail. In addition to a critical analysis of traditionally discussed concepts such as privacy, autonomy, and trust, considerations regarding the role and value of attention in the debate will also be made. To do justice to the role of ethics as an advisory authority in an interdisciplinary discourse, constructive considerations regarding future developments and specific design decisions in specific contexts will also be made.

Similar to other debates, idealizations of the current state or excessive expressions of mistrust towards new technologies are not productive. The core question that this project addresses is not whether digitization should take place from an ethical perspective, but rather whether central values are negatively affected within the context of digitization and how this can be counteracted through intelligent design decisions or value-sensitive design of technologies and implementation attempts.

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