Ethical Implications of Alzheimer’s Disease Prediction in Asymptomatic Individuals Through Artificial Intelligence

Diagnostics 11 (3):440 (2021)
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Biomarker-based predictive tests for subjectively asymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are utilized in research today. Novel applications of artificial intelligence (AI) promise to predict the onset of AD several years in advance without determining biomarker thresholds. Until now, little attention has been paid to the new ethical challenges that AI brings to the early diagnosis in asymptomatic individuals, beyond contributing to research purposes, when we still lack adequate treatment. The aim of this paper is to explore the ethical arguments put forward for AI aided AD prediction in subjectively asymptomatic individuals and their ethical implications. The ethical assessment is based on a systematic literature search. Thematic analysis was conducted inductively of 18 included publications. The ethical framework includes the principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. Reasons for offering predictive tests to asymptomatic individuals are the right to know, a positive balance of the risk-benefit assessment, and the opportunity for future planning. Reasons against are the lack of disease modifying treatment, the accuracy and explicability of AI aided prediction, the right not to know, and threats to social rights. We conclude that there are serious ethical concerns in offering early diagnosis to asymptomatic individuals and the issues raised by the application of AI add to the already known issues. Nevertheless, pre-symptomatic testing should only be offered on request to avoid inflicted harm. We recommend developing training for physicians in communicating AI aided prediction.

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Cristian Timmermann
Universität Augsburg


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