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Navigating the Ethical Minefield of Bio-Printing

May 12, 2013, 7:00 AM
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Many people actually believe right now that we can print an entire living organ.  There’s this notion that we can print a real eyeball right now. That’s decades off.  The state-of-the-art right now is that researchers have successfully printed living cells into the exact figuration of a piece of cartilage.  So in terms of facing the real ethical issues involved in bioprinting, it's going to take some time.  With that said, you can let your imagination run wild when you start thinking about how the technology of bioprinting will inevitably improve.

The power to make living creatures is something that we humans, and quite rightly so, tend to hold sacred.  So imagine the production black-market body parts.  Let’s say we really could print an eyeball and let’s say that, just like any market, there’s a black market available as well.

So imagine you are desperate and your health insurance has expired, and you need a new eyeball, so you go to the black market stalls.  This is the stuff of science fiction and actually the Sci-fi author Cory Doctorow does a brilliant job depicting some of these ghastly future outcomes of bioprinting.  Imagine you buy a defective eyeball. You go get a black-market surgeon.  He or she implants it, and wow what a mess.  

It’s one thing to buy a cheap knockoff handbag on the street.  That’s not good but it’s a lot less disruptive and ethically loaded then things that actually relate to our physical being.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

 

 

Navigating the Ethical Mine...

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