Social Implications of Advanced Medical Technology
Advances in medical technology arc occurring at a speed that is almost unbelievable; however. sociologists and other social scientists have identified specific social implications of some of the new technologies (set! Weiss and Lonnquist, 1009): 1. 71,e /lCII’ technologies cre<lte options fllrpcople and for , bill options that alter human relationships.An example is the ability of medical personnel to sustain a life that in earlier times would have ended as the result of disease or an accident. Although this can he beneficial, technologically adv~ced equipment that can sustain life after consciousness is lost and there is no likelihood that the person will recover can create a difficult decision for the family of that person if he or she h:1Snot left 3 living wl/l-a document stating the persons wishes regarding the medical circumstances under which”his or her life should be terminated. Federal law requires all hospitals and other medical facilities to honor the terms of a living will. Recent media coverage of individuals whose lives have been prolonged by new medical technologies has made more people aware of some end-of-life issu s. 2. increase tbe cost of medical care. For example, the computerized axial tomography (CT or CAT) scanner-which combines a computer
with X-rays that arc passed through the- body at different angles-produces clear images of the interior of the body that are invaluable in investigating disease. However, the cost of such a scanner is around $1 million. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment that allows pictures to be taken of internal organs ranges in cost from $1 million to 52.5 million. Can the United States afford such equipment in every hos ital for every patient? The money available for health care is not unlimited, and when it is spent on high-tech equipment and treatment, it is bei ng reallocated from other health care programs that might be of greater assistance to
more people . 3. The lIew technologies raise provocative questions about the very nature of lifeIn Chapter 15, we briefly discuss in vitro fertilization-a form of assisted reproductive technology. But during 1997, Dr. Ian Williams and his associates in Scotland took in vitro fertilization a step further: They doned a
lamb (that they named Dolly) rom the DNA of an adult sheep. Subsequently, scientists have cion cd other animals in the same manner, raising a number of profound questions: If scientists can duplicate mammals from adult DNA. is it possible to clone a perfect (whatever that may be) human being instead of taking a chance on a child that is born to a couple? If it is possible, would it be ethical? For
example, if-as discussed earlier in this text-most parents prefer a boy over a girl if they arc going.