Articles  |    |  September 6, 2017

The use of care robots in aged care: A systematic review of argument-based ethics literature

Article by Tijs Vandemeulebrouckea, Bernadette Dierckx de Casterléb and Chris Gastmansa.
Published in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.


Background: As care robots become more commonplace in aged-care settings, the ethical debate on their use becomes increasingly important. Our objective was to examine the ethical arguments and underlying concepts used in the ethical debate on care robot use in aged care.

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature search for argument-based ethics publications focusing on care robot use in aged-care practices. We used an innovative methodology that consisted of three steps: (a) identifying conceptual-ethical questions, (b) conducting a literature search, and (c) identifying, describing and analyzing the ethical arguments in connection with the conceptual-ethical questions.

Results: Twenty-eight appropriate publications were identified. All were published between 2002 and 2016. Four primary ethical approaches were distinguished: (a) a deontological, (b) a principlist, (c) an objective-list, and (d) a care-ethical. All approaches were equally represented across the articles, and all used similar concepts that grounded their diverse ethical arguments. A small group of publications could not be linked to an ethical approach.

Conclusions: All included publications presented a strong ethical rationale based on fully elaborated normative arguments. Although the reviewed studies used similar grounding concepts, the studies’ arguments were very diverse and sometimes diametrically opposed. Our analysis shows how one envisions care robot use in aged-care settings is influenced by how one views the traditional boundaries of the ethical landscape in aged care. We suggest that an ethical analysis of care robot use employs “democratic spaces,” in which all stakeholders in aged care, especially care recipients, have a voice in the ethical debate.


  • Ethical arguments and grounding concepts on care robot use in aged care are diverse.
  • Deeper understanding of the ethical debate on care robot use is provided.
  • Deontology, principlism, object-list theory, or care ethics motivate most ethical arguments.
  • Authors’ view of care robots reveals their understanding of the ethical landscape and vice versa.
  • Ethical assessments and reasoning strengthen each other but need to be distinguished.