Technology has always been used to the advantage of the people. It has made everyday life simple in many ways. Communication, Media and even Healthcare have benefited from it. With healthcare in mind, technology has been a large contributor to the progress of man. It has been so beneficial that the FDA has approved a way for healthcare and security to follow us wherever we go. A tiny chip implanted in your right arm or hand would hold our medical records, financial records and information pertinent to our identity. Has technology gone too far? Is this idea immoral or unethical?
So far one company has been approved by the FDA to bring this product to the public. Applied Digital Solutions has designed the VeriChip for our needs. The VeriChip is made possible by the use of an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) microchip and is about the size of a grain of rice, the microchip inserts just under the skin and contains only a unique, 16-digit identifier (VeriChip Corporation, 2006). The chip does not contain GPS (Global Positioning System) capabilities yet and it cannot be lost, stolen, misplaced, or counterfeited (VeriChip Corporation, 2006). Although this type of technology sounds new, it has actually been around for some time now. RFID chips are everywhere. When buying a purse at the store there is a metal strip inside. This is the chip that makes the alarm go off when leaving the store without having it deactivated after purchasing it. Anything you buy these days (other than food) has a RFID tag on it. Even animals have implanted chips. When and if you ever adopt a cat or dog from the Humane Society, press down on the back of its neck. You will be able to feel the chip that has been implanted to track it in case you lose it.
In 2002 VeriChip made a break-through when they chipped a family in Boca Roton, Florida. Jeff and Leslie Jacobs, along with their 14-year-old son, Derek, had the tiny chips implanted in their arms (Family implanted with computer chips, 2002). The insertion took only a minute under local anesthesia. The family had decided to be chipped for medical emergencies. Jeff has suffered through cancer, a car crash, a degenerative spinal condition, chronic eye disease and abdominal operations (Family implanted with computer chips, 2002). Within their chips contained phone numbers and information about previous medications. If for some reason they were incapacitated and brought to the hospital, a swipe of the arm would supply vital information to treat them according to their past medical history. At this time the FDA had not approved the chip because they did not consider the implant to be a medical device (Family implanted with computer chips, 2002). The company had hoped to market this product for those who suffered serious medical conditions, for instance those with Alzheimer’s disease (Family implanted with computer chips, 2002). After two years the FDA approved the VeriChip as a medical device. According to their Class II Special Controls Guidance Document the FDA states that, “the device is intended to enable access to secure patient identification and corresponding health information in humans” (2004, p. 1). Since VeriChip was given the green light the company seemed to target the elderly, children and the military. As they had previously hoped, they were able to market their “medical” device for those with Alzheimer’s disease. In reference to children, the chip was presented to protect children from abduction. As soon as a baby comes into this world the hospital wraps a bracelet on its ankle. I witnessed this first hand when my son was born in March of 2004. They carried my child beyond the security line and a loud and annoying alarm went off. Just a little peace of mind for the parent and one would find this to be a blessing but not everything is as it seems.
The issue of privacy and side-effects of the implant troubles the mind. An article in USA Today spoke of this issue and focused on CityWatcher.com, a provider of surveillance equipment. Two of their employees had been chipped to protect high-end secure data. Sean Darks, chief executive of the Cincinnati-based company compared chip implants to retina scans or fingerprinting (Lewan, 2007). The comparison is weak in reference to implanting humans and to others, the notion of tagging people is Orwellian, a departure from centuries of history and tradition in which people had the right to go and do as they pleased, without being tracked, unless they were harming someone else (Lewan, 2007). When presented with the idea of a Big-Brother-like campaign Sean Darks squashed it by saying it was “hogwash” (Lewan, 2007). Whether it is believed to be hogwash or not others feel it goes hand in hand with the Bible. Some Christian critics saw the implants as the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy that describes an age of evil in which humans are forced to take the “Mark of the Beast” on their bodies, to buy or sell anything (Lewan, 2007).
Regarding the issue of side-effects an article on MSNBC.com entitled, “Microchip for people may cause cancer” mentioned that there were possibilities that tumors could form. When the FDA approved implanting microchips in humans, the manufacturer said it would save lives (2007). They found “reasonable assurance” the device was safe, and a sub-agency even called it one of 2005’s top “innovative technologies” (2007). However, neither the company nor the regulators publicly mentioned that the chip implants had “induced” malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats (2007). These studies were actually performed in the mid-1990’s and well before the approval in 2004. One would wonder why the FDA would allow the approval of a product that could possibly cause cancer. Within the Class II Special Controls Guidance Document, the FDA determined that premarket notification is not necessary to provide reasonable assurance of the safety and effectiveness of this generic type of device if the manufacturer follows the recommendations in this special controls guidance or equivalent measures to address the risks identified in this guidance (2004, p. 3). The risks of chipping humans are even listed within the document, however, no mention of cancer (2004, p. 3).
- Adverse Tissue Reaction
- Migration of implanted transponder
- Compromised Information Security
- Failure of implanted transponder
- Failure of Inserter
- Failure of electronic scanner
- Electrical Hazards
These are just a few of the risks regarding chip implants and this product was designed to help us.
In conclusion this is just the beginning and so far it has been seen as a grand invention for healthcare and security. Persuasion is the key to marketing to the American people and those around the world. You will no longer have to worry about your medical information or if your children will be abducted. Missing soldiers will be a thing of the past and your finances will be kept safe in a secure database that can only be accessed by a swipe of your arm. Such simplicity would make everyday life a cake walk but the big picture is concerning our privacy. The question of whether or not chipping humans is unethical or immoral is irrelevant. The time is now to wake up and reject the wolf in sheep’s clothing. As George Orwell put it in his book 1984, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (Orwell, 1950).
(2006). VeriChip Corporation-RFID Tags. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from VeriChip Corporation Web site: http://www.verichipcorp.com/content/company/rfidtags#implantable
(2002,05,10). Family implanted with computer chips. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from USA Today Web site: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/05/10/implantable-chip.htm
(2004,12,10). Class II Special Controls Guidance Document. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from The Food and Drug Administration Web site: http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/ode/guidance/1541.pdf
Lewan, T (2007). Microchips in humans spark privacy debate. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from USA Today Web site: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/surveillance/2007-07-21-chips_N.htm
(2007). Microchip for people may cause cancer. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from MSNBC Web site: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20643620
Orwell, George (1950). 1984. New York,New York: New American Library.