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September 24, 2007

Medical Technology

Last Tuesday, our class discussed some of the costs and benefits of increasing medical technology. We spent a fair amount of time debating the issue of cloning and reproductive technology. Would it be beneficial to separate two male X and Y chromosomes and fuse them with another male's chromosomes allowing homosexual couples to reproduce? On the one hand, homosexual couples could have children of their own. However, could such technology initially lead to genetic disorders? And if so, is it ethical to test such technology on unborn humans who can not give consent? I have been struggling with these questions, and I was curious to see what the medical community considers to be ethical in regard to research involving human subjects. Here is a link to the current Human Research Ethics Codes and Standards for those who are curious: http://bioethics.od.nih.gov/IRB.html

Of course the above situation is only hypothetical. We do not yet possess the technology to perform such medical feats. But we are making progress in that direction. Individuals are created in petri dishes, sometimes without the egg and sperm "owners" ever actually meeting. Such is the case with donors and buyers of the Genius Sperm Banks. One website, http://www.scientistdonor.com , offers the biographical information and photographs of a so-called "high-achieving" donor. Apparently, women interested in this man's sperm assume that his high-achievement is largely the result of his genetic makeup. Therefore, they assume that this donor's sons will also be high-achievers. But what percentage of our characteristics is genetic and how much relies on our environment? How much control do humans have regarding the type of person technology can create?

Despite what might appear to be setbacks regarding medical technology, there are certainly some benefits. A prime example is a new development in cancer screening. The Ars Tecnica website published an article on September 18th, called "Distributed computing tackles dengue, hepatitis." Here's a link: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070918-distributed-computing-tackles-dengue-hepatitis.html. The article says that IBM has a project called the World Community Grid, which can now search for molecules that block the reproduction of flaviviruses which cause a variety of diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, hepatitis C, and West Nile disease. Such information sharing technology could greatly help combat these illnesses. This is just one of many great examples of how new medical technology can help save lives.
Feel free to comment on how you feel about medical techonology. Its impact, limitations, costs, benefits, etc.

Posted by leslieph at September 24, 2007 12:29 PM

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