Conditional separable effects

Researchers are often interested in treatment effects on outcomes that are only defined conditional on a post-treatment event status. For example, in a study of the effect of different cancer treatments on quality of life at end of follow-up, the quality of life of individuals who die during the study is undefined. In these settings, a naive contrast of outcomes conditional on the post-treatment variable is not an average causal effect, even in a randomized experiment. Therefore the effect in the principal stratum of those who would have the same value of the post-treatment variable regardless of treatment, such as the always survivors in a truncation by death setting, is often advocated for causal inference. While this principal stratum effect is a well defined causal contrast, it is often hard to justify that it is relevant to scientists, patients or policy makers, and it cannot be identified without relying on unfalsifiable assumptions. Here we formulate alternative estimands, the conditional separable effects, that have a natural causal interpretation under assumptions that can be falsified in a randomized experiment. We provide identification results and introduce different estimators, including a doubly robust estimator derived from the nonparametric influence function. As an illustration, we estimate a conditional separable effect of chemotherapies on quality of life in patients with prostate cancer, using data from a randomized clinical trial.


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Jun 28 2020
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 Record created 2020-10-15, last modified 2020-10-28


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