Why the Adoption of Nanotechnology in Medicine and Biomedicine isn’t as Fast as it Could Be? – Part 2: Nanoethics

Since nanotechnology started to receive more publicity, many organizations have focused in the ethical and societal implications, and other concerns about nanotechnology and its applications, both now and in the future. The ethical and societal implications and concerns of nanotechnology and its applications very diverse and include:

  • Defence;
  • Access to nanotechnology;
  • Environment protection;
  • Invasion of privacy;
  • Medicine, biomedicine and Human enhancement;
  • Consumer protection.
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    While one of the key defence applications of nanotechnology involves diagnosis and treatment of injuries, the mere mention of military applications conjures up science fiction scenarios of killer nanobots in the mind of the general public, leading to a negative impression.

    Another ethical and societal concern of nanotechnology is access to nanotechnology. In a near future, terrorism may also tend to be highly “innovative”. If terrorist groups access nanotechnology, this emerging and promising scientific and technological field can be used for killing and scaring an unpredictable number of human beings (although similar concerns have existed over biotech risk for many years).

    Concerning environment protection, this topic was already addressed in my last post: “Why the Adoption of Nanotechnology in Medicine and Biomedicine isn’t as Fast as it Could Be? – Part 1: Nanotoxicity and Nanopollution”.

    There have also been concerns over invasion of privacy. Many people fear that if nothing is done in terms of regulation, nanotechnology will facilitate access to the private information of individuals such as health. Even though the major threat to privacy and the weakest link are the databases in which this information is held there are still ethical questions about data protection, privacy and piracy.

    So nanotechnology applied to medicine and biomedicine faces ethical concerns due to the poor knowledge about nanorisks and a delayed, confused and as yet poorly implemented regulatory system. Not only nanotechnology in drug delivery is in debate. Also other topics are now being discussed, such as:

  • Nanodiagnostic;
  • Nanotechnology in implants;
  • Nanocosmeceuticals.
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    Human enhancement is the ability of human beings to use technology to enhance the bodies and minds of human beings, in opposition to its application for therapeutic purposes. The use of nanotechnology for Human enhancement purposes is somehow tempting and a critical issue in terms of nanoethics. It raises many debates about applications of nanotechnology for trans-humanisist purposes (transforming Human Beings into Post-Humans).

    Concerning to human enhancement, questions and concerns of an anthropological nature are also raised. To take one of many examples: will it be legitimate that in the future surgeons will use nanosurgery to produce supra-human capabilities? For instance, the ability to see in the IR or UV portion of the electromagnetic spectrum or even see in the dark using implanted nanotechnology-based sensors. Or perhaps the opposite, must future surgeons use only nanosurgery to restore and maintain normal functions of human beings? This opens up a whole new area of debate about whether these enhancements will be available to all, or just those wealthy enough to afford them. In the case of the former, how will scarce surgical resources be allocated, and how will governments fund them?

    Consumer protection is also an issue as people may be exposed to nanoparticles while using nanotechnology-based products. This topic raises many questions, most of them related with nano safety, although as with any drug there is a huge difference between it being administer by a trained clinician and self administration or accidental exposure..

    Taking all these factors into account, it is hardly surprising that the adoption of NanoTechnologies is rather slower than many enthusiasts had imagined!!!