Saturday, 17 Mar, 2007 Science

To live or die - computer will decide


Are you ready to entrust your destiny to a computer? Researches say that a new computer program can make life-or-death decisions for disabled people better than their closest relatives.

A new research conducted by National Institute of Health (NIH) introduced a software program that can calculate all the pros and contras for further treatment of the seriously ill patients based on the mathematical formula. The decisions made by computer calculations are claimed to be even more accurate than those of the patient's close people.

Usually, when a doctor deals with an incapacitated patient and the chances for treatment are not evident, the decision is handed in to surrogate. But NIH scientists revealed, the surrogate decision may not be precise. A thorough analysis of the 20,000 choices of surrogates and patients showed that their decisions coincided only in two third of the times.

NIH professor David Wendler suggested a population-based treatment indicator to make such decision more precise. The program is based on database of other patients with the same disease, with similar characteristics like age, illness peculiarities, nationality and others along with the information on the treatment option.

The prior population-based treatment indicator was created by Wendler group after analyzing the statistic results of the survey conducted on cancer patients. They disclosed that patients are likely to choose a treatment saving their life even if it would be 1 percent chance and their mental state won't suffer much. Otherwise, life-saving treatment is unlikely to be the choice for those who have 99 percent chance they would live, but with their mental abilities not recovered.

The result of preliminary comparison of the computer treatment indicator and decisions made by surrogates was stunning. The accuracy of both human and computer decisions coincided in over 78 percent of cases.

Although these findings showed that computer choice could be not less effective than human decision, this scientific idea remains quite questionable due to the ethical matters. The substitute of the personal decision shouldn't be ignored even if calculations were proved to be accurate. Wendler and his colleagues say that even closest relatives are not able to make life-or-death decisions when it comes to serious cases, while their software takes into account the whole range of factors.


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