3D Printing is revolutionising the way we manufacture products and is becoming an ever more dominant figure in the manufacturing sector. However, one of its most breath-taking applications is its use in the creation of human tissue, also known as Bio-printing, leading to the ever-growing possibility of someday 3D printing fully functional organs. But is the prospect of having new organs readily available for everyone a blessing, or a curse in disguise?
An Answer for Our Cries
Considering that the ultimate intention of 3D Bio-printing is to save and improve the lives of people, it should be ensured that this technology will benefit humanity. For example, Bio-printing can improve medical treatments as it can provide the means for fast, accurate and efficient testing of new medicine or therapy methods, replacing human trials and dramatically decreasing the time to market for potentially life-saving treatments. However, possibly one of the most desirable prospects of 3D Bio-printing is the production of fully functional organs.
Currently more than 119,000 people in the US and approximately 6,000 in the UK are on an active organ waiting list. From these, approximately 25 will die today whilst waiting and as the average human life expectancy continues to increase, these numbers will only rise, further widening the gap between supply and demand. Donor numbers have long now remained stagnant despite the introduction of government schemes aiming to tackle this problem. Therefore, could 3D printed organs be the solution? In theory, yes. Production of fully functional organs could effectively reduce the number of people waiting for an organ transplant since donor organs would become readily available. Organs could be printed on demand to patient requirements, removing the need for finding a compatible donor. In addition, patients in critical conditions requiring immediate care, like car accident victims, can be treated fast and effectively. Furthermore, Bio-printing will not only benefit the sufferers and their families but also hospitals and hospital staff. The requirements for expensive treatments such as haemodialysis, a common practice for patients requiring a kidney transplant will be minimized, reducing the costs both for patients and for the hospital whilst also freeing up staff.
Moreover, this technology could also combat the dark side of organ waiting lists. The shortage of organs often leads people to explore alternative routes in order to obtain a life-saving transplant, generally through unlawful means. Organ trafficking, a form of human trafficking, is a reality and in fact an organ is sold every hour on the black market. Organs are usually sourced from third world countries in exchange for money or are illegally removed from dead corpses and sold on to people who can afford them. 3D printing organs could combat the organ black market by increasing the number of available organs at any time, benefiting the people waiting for a life-saving transplant and reducing the number of people having their organs removed, either willingly or not. Extended development of 3D Bio-printing could also suggest that transplant prices will be lowered as the market unfolds, further reducing the ‘‘need’’ for a black market and the costs of fighting it.
The Dark Side
But what can guarantee that the final outcome of 3D Bio-printing will be constructive? There are numerous examples throughout history where technology misuse has led to catastrophic consequences and so it is only rational that one can argue 3D Bio-printing may lead to similar results.
Although Bio-printing might reduce the need for a ‘black market’, it is also highly likely that this technology could open new routes for the black market to obtain a competitive edge. Bio-printing technology could potentially be replicated, flooding the black market with organs, and thereby imposing many risks, since no one can guarantee these organs will be produced to the required clinical specifications. Unregulated ‘‘printing’’ can therefore give rise to unfortunate consequences, especially if the transplanted organ fails to function. This in turn will raise further questions as to who is to blame when a person dies after a transplant, a consequence of inadequate regulations. Since it will be potentially cheaper and easier to obtain an organ from the black market it is expected that people will die or suffer from these non-regulated activities. This is most likely to have the greatest impact in developing countries where a cheap, life-saving organ could possibly hide fatal consequences.
Furthermore, what about the people who can afford a clinically approved printed organ? Smoking, drinking and other drug usage is heavily criticised and widely illegalised by modern society on the basis of its addictive and harmful nature. Introducing Bio-printing, essentially an organ replacement process, might eliminate the health implications of drug use thus resulting in drugs being associated with satisfaction only, potentially sparking a drug flurry. Yet again, for people less economically fortunate, their pleasure seeking could possibly lead them to the organ black market trade and unregulated Bio-printing.
However, is that the sort of society we want to live in, where we can knowingly damage ourselves simply because we can fix them? Who guarantees that this behaviour will not expand to every aspect of our lives? Already many youth ‘‘role models’’ promote themselves through drug use and other bad behaviours. Do we really want to empower them further, demolishing our moral values? Could this misconception of safety cause an escalation of social decline?
Work is Still Needed.
3D Bio-printing is an exciting future prospect, promising to change many lives but as is the case with any form of technology, it could be exploited immorally. As such, there is a great necessity to implement regulations and form special governing bodies to control this technology’s employment in medicine. Of course, as with many moral dilemmas, this is not a black and white problem but in fact it has many shades of grey. Consequently, if a complete judgement is to be made on the development of Bio-printing and its eventual use, legalities and social issues should also be considered, taking into account religious and ethical values of the country where the technology is to be implemented.
Group 14: Philippos Hadjiioannou, Amir Hairuddin, Christos Georgiou, Aiman Nasir