We Can Build You

February  23,  2012 / By David Rodriguez

When I read the article’s headline in Popular Science , “A 3-D Printer Makes Customized Human Bones To Order,”  I was beside myself. Yet another technological milestone in our advancement. While the device doesn’t print actual full bones, it does create “bone bridges.” These are implants that act like a wire frame for new bone mass to grow on. For example, if a person has a bad hip bone due to fracture, surgeons can go in and place one of the bridges. Within a week new bone mass will start to grow around it. This is an optimal process because instead of doing an artificial replacement, doctors can foster the growth of the real thing.

Obviously this is a good thing and though it’s still at inception I couldn’t help thinking that as is the case with good-intentioned scientific achievements we manage to find not-so-good intentioned uses. For instance,  might there one day be a company that would patent these living implants and subsequently own a part of you; hip, arm or knee. How can anyone patent life? Who has that authority to make that decision? Well, the United States Supreme Court says they do. In the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty  the ruling was, “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.” Humans owning other human beings’ organ, bones, teeth, etc., is fodder for dystopian science fiction and not our reality. Or is it? As Plato mentioned in his “allegory of the cave”, is our reality really just shadows reflected on a wall? Will we one day become simulacrum? A golem of ancient Jewish lore? A Frankenstein? Pinocchio? Replicant? Will these human beings be given the same rights as the rest of us? Well, I can go on and on. The possibilities are endless. Our history on this planet attests to that.

I can only hope such discoveries and inventions will be our “eureka!”  moment as we leap out of our bath like Archimedes of old and not utter as Oppenheimer famously did when he saw the first mushroom cloud, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

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