Nudging in Health Care


Nudging in health care – A valuable new tool or an unethical practice?

Professor Søren Holm

Centre for Social Ethics & Policy, University of Manchester &

Centre for Medical Ethics, University of Oslo.


1800 Wednesday the 21st of February, 2018.
Edgar Graham Room (MST/02/002). The School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast.

Flyer [.pdf]


In this talk I will discuss the use of ‘nudging’ techniques in clinical medicine and public health from an ethical perspective. Derived from behavioural economics, the idea of nudging techniques have become popular among decision makers in recent years. Many advocate their use in health care both in relation to public health interventions such as population screening and in clinical medicine. These techniques aim to promote particular choices through the design of the ‘choice architecture’. Some of the popularity of nudging is due to the fact that these techniques seem to allow policy makers and clinicians to promote certain choices whilst not acting in an obviously morally problematic way. Indeed, even though Thaler and Sunstein consider nudging to be a form of ‘Liberatarian Paternalism,’ it is not clear that structuring the social context of choice in such a way to make certain response more likely than would otherwise be the case is an overt – or morally problematic – form of paternalism. This talk will present the standard justification for the acceptability of nudging and will then analyse a range of nudging interventions in health care. It will be argued that whereas some of these are morally innocuous, others are more problematic. This is because, either 1) the means by which they achieve their goals are problematic, or 2) the goals themselves involve an unjustifiable paternalism.