Mechanical seal sparks debate over robots' role in eldercare

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Paro, the robotic baby seal designed to reduce stress and lift the spirits of elderly individuals, has sparked an ethical debate over the role these types of “medical devices” should play in eldercare.

Long-term care professionals and researchers have been divided over the appropriateness of such robotic caregivers since Paro began arriving in the U.S. a few years ago, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some believe that the device, which serves as a low-maintenance alternative to therapy pets, helps comfort some older patients, especially those with dementia who need emotional support beyond what humans can give. Others are wary that entrusting the emotional-support end of caregiving to machines is “inhuman,” the Journal reported.

Despite receiving a poor reception in its native Japan, Paro has gained a level of popularity in the U.S. and parts of Europe, according to the Journal. One Danish distributor of the robot requires caregivers to discuss some of the ethical questions surrounding its use, such as whether to tell patients it's a robot, or whether it's OK to leave patients alone with it.