Ethical Criteria for Health-Promoting Nudges: A Case-by-Case Analysis

American Journal of Bioethics 19 (5):48-59 (2019)
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Health-promoting nudges have been put into practice by different agents, in different contexts and with different aims. This article formulates a set of criteria that enables a thorough ethical evaluation of such nudges. As such, it bridges the gap between the abstract, theoretical debates among academics and the actual behavioral interventions being implemented in practice. The criteria are derived from arguments against nudges, which allegedly disrespect nudgees, as these would impose values on nudgees and/or violate their rationality and autonomy. Instead of interpreting these objections as knock-down arguments, I take them as expressing legitimate worries that can often be addressed. I analyze six prototypical nudge cases, such as Google’s rearrangement of fridges and the use of defaults in organ donation registration. I show how the ethical criteria listed are satisfied by most—but not all—nudges in most—but not all—circumstances.



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Bart Engelen
Tilburg University