Cancer and the computerized family: towards a clinical ethics of “indirect” Internet use
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The normative dimensions of Internet use among patients and their families have not been studied in much depth in the field of clinical ethics. This study considers cancer-related Internet use among families and friends of cancer patients, and how that use of the Internet may affect patients and patient care. Interviews were conducted with 120 cancer patients, most of whom (76%) reported that family, friends, and others in their social network used the Internet in some way related to the patient’s cancer. Many patients (73%) did not request this online help from their social networks, yet found it helpful and comforting nonetheless. Other patients were less positive about the helpfulness of the online efforts of friends and relatives. A significant proportion of patients (39%) also felt that the online information they received was prescreened or edited in some way. Very few patients recalled that their clinicians ever discussed these and other issues with them. The study illustrates that indirect Internet use is a central feature of the cancer experience. In contrast to other literature in this area, the study suggests that indirect Internet use may have normatively positive and negative implications for patients. These implications point towards the importance of studying and understanding indirect Internet use—and Internet use in general—in the field of clinical ethics.
KeywordsAutonomy Cancer Ethics Information technology Internet
This study is part of a larger project being conducted with the support of a National Cancer Institute (NCI/NIH) Career Development Award (CA108457) and an American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant (IRG-91-022-12).
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