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American Journal of Bioethics.

Telecare, Surveillance, and the Welfare State

In Europe, telecare is the use of remote monitoring technology to enable vulnerable people to live independently in their own homes. The technology includes electronic tags and sensors that transmit information about the user’s location and patterns of behavior in the user’s home to an external hub, where it can trigger an intervention in an emergency. Telecare users in the United Kingdom sometimes report their unease about being monitored by a “Big Brother,” and the same kind of electronic tags that alert telecare hubs to the movements of someone with dementia who is “wandering” are worn by terrorist suspects who have been placed under house arrest. For these and other reasons, such as ordinary privacy concerns, telecare is sometimes regarded as an objectionable extension of a “surveillance state.” In this article, we defend the use of telecare against the charge that it is Orwellian. In the United States, the conception of telecare primarily as telemedicine, and the fact that it is not typically a government responsibility, make a supposed connection with a surveillance state even more doubtful than in Europe. The main objection, we argue, to telecare is not its intrusiveness, but the danger of its deepening the isolation of those who use it. There are ways of organizing telecare so that the independence and privacy of users are enhanced, but personal isolation may be harder to address. As telecare is a means of reducing the cost of publicly provided social and health care, and the need to reduce public spending is growing, the correlative problem of isolation must be addressed alongside the goal of promoting independence.


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Volume 12, Issue 9
September 2012