Transforming lives with medical bionics

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Bernie GoldieUniversity of Wollongong
Katina MichaelUniversity of Wollongong


While these new technologies are a dramatically improving the lives of patients like Sue Young, Associate Professor Katina Michael warns about the potential ethical implications.

“Medical bionics are prone to scope creep. Today a device might be used for prosthesis, rehabilitation, diagnostics, but in the future it might well be used for health insurance purposes to monitor whether or not the bionics implantee is doing what they are supposed to be doing, like exercises etc. Two decades from now, futurists like Ray Kurzweil believe these devices might even be used for convenience related solutions, such as accessing the Internet or paying for goods at point of sale”.

“One of the biggest dilemmas is how these medical bionics may be rolled out, for example, as an automatic identification device to replace bracelets like the MedicAlert for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Consent becomes a major issue here. Does the patient who has lost their cognitive capacities have the right to say ‘no’? What if the technology fails, and therefore fails to locate a patient? What if these technologies are used to track prison inmates? Do prison inmates have the ability to say ‘no’? A lot of people are talking about the need to track minors with GPS devices. While implants cannot do the job of GPS devices, they could work in concert with them in the future”.

Associate Professor Michael says the major issues of bionics have to do with trust, control, reliability, availability, liability and accountability.

“We are quickly approaching a time when medical bionics will be mimicked in the entertainment and commercial sector for very different uses. Are we ready to become bionic? Are we ready to live in an uberveillance society?”, she asks.

Suggested Citation

Bernie Goldie and Katina Michael. "Transforming lives with medical bionics" UOW Media Releases May. 2012.