At a time when technology is advancing more rapidly than ever before, there is incredible pressure on the government to keep up. And although many breakthroughs won’t become mainstream for years to come, the issues are so complex that the government must start thinking about them now.
Scientists have begun to tinker with 3D printing to create human tissue that can be used for drug testing. Eventually, they hope to produce fully functioning organs, taken from the recipient’s own cells, to use for transplant. But they acknowledge that such a thing is still decades away from becoming a reality.
Of course, with any technological advancements, particularly those that will someday involve or affect the public, the government must step in and create policy to regulate its use. As such, the government must stay abreast of scientific developments – and maintain a firm understanding of the ethical issues surrounding them.
The ethical implications associated with the 3D printing of human tissue seem straightforward. It is a cheaper and safer way to test drugs. It negates our reliance on living or deceased organ donors. It can vastly reduce the danger of transplant rejection by the recipient’s body. But what about issues of consent? What policies are necessary to ensure the protection of people’s DNA?
And there are other issues surrounding 3D printing that have nothing to do with healthcare. In the past few months, the media has been reporting on the creation of the Liberator, the first 3D-printed handgun. It was fully functional, capable of firing one bullet at a time, and although the gun disintegrated during testing, the blueprints have since been posted on the Internet for anyone to download.
In the July 4th edition of the Toronto Star, Eric Andrew-Gee reported that a group of researchers at the University of Toronto had successfully printed the design for the Liberator. The article raises several questions related to policy: namely, how will gun laws be enforced now that anyone can create a firearm from the privacy of his or her home? How will airport security be enforced if metal detectors won’t pick up on a plastic handgun?
What are your thoughts on these issues? Tell us in the comments!