Withdrawal Aversion as a Useful Heuristic for Critical Care Decisions

American Journal of Bioethics 19 (3):36-38 (2019)
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While agreeing with the main conclusion of Dominic Wilkinson and colleagues (Wilkinson, Butcherine, and Savulescu 2019), namely, that there is no moral difference between treatment withholding and withdrawal as such, we wish to criticize their approach on the basis that it treats the widespread acceptance of withdrawal aversion (WA) as a cognitive bias. Wilkinson and colleagues understand WA as “a nonrational preference for withholding (WH) treatment over withdrawal (WD) of treatment” (22). They treat WA as a manifestation of loss aversion and refer to Kahneman and colleagues (1991), which defined this effect as follows: “the disutility of giving up an object is greater that the utility associated with acquiring it” (194). In a previous work, Wilkinson and Savulescu understood nonequivalence between treatment withholding and withdrawal as a reflection of slightly different, although related, phenomena: status quo bias or omission bias (Wilkinson and Savulescu 2012, 130–131). In neither of these two papers do they describe precisely the relation between these well-known psychological effects and WA, nor do they explain why they treat these effects as examples of nonrational preferences, despite the fact that these issues have been the subject of wide-ranging discussions on the intersection of psychology, economy, and philosophy.
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Archival date: 2019-04-09
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