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Medical Utopias: Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Dr Alex Tang

 

Medical utopias are often about good health, absence of suffering, and even delaying of the aging process. The last two decades have seen a tremendous increase in emerging medical technologies to achieve these utopias. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome sets the stage for the next step of genetic and molecular advances. The increase in computing power, storage capacity, connectivity, and the Internet has opened avenues of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The perfecting of sustaining cell growth in vitro and cell nucleus transfer has opened the way to cloning, stem cell harvesting, and a new field of regenerative medicine. However, these emerging technologies bring with them a large number of bioethical concerns that need to be addressed. These concerns involving tissue engineering, bioelectronics, new genetics, cloning, gene therapy, germ-line genome modifications are only the tip of the iceberg.

In this paper I will reflect on three areas of concern. Firstly, the emergence of the digital patient will be considered. This digital patient will be deeply formed and informed by health information technology (IT), the social media, and issues involving privacy, confidentiality and data security. Secondly, the direct to customers (DTC) genetic screening tests will be discussed. The ethical issue of buccal swabs taken at home and be tested for genetic diseases and future prediction of other illnesses which is marketed directly to the consumers will be examined. Finally, the development of new pharmaco-therapeutics will be explored. There have been changes in the way new drugs are tested and these changes do raise some ethical concerns. The examination of these ethical issues will be done in the framework of respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.

 

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