Bioethics Blogs

Despite the Risks, and Because of Them, the FDA Should Permit Recycling Medical Implants

It is hard to quibble with the fact that Dr. Daniel Mascarenhas is breaking the law. It is also hard to quibble with the fact that he is a hero.

The doctor is breaking the law as he tries to find pacemakers from those who have recently died in his Pennsylvania neighborhood to send to India. In India there are many desperately poor persons with cardiac problems that require a pacemaker. They need them but cannot possibly afford to buy one.

In his spare time the good doctor calls funeral homes to see if anyone with a pacemaker has died. He asks the deceased relatives for permission to take the device before burial or cremation, removes it, cleans it, checks the remaining battery life and then finds someone who is heading to India to smuggle the soon-to-be recycled devices into that country.

Why is what he is doing illegal? Shouldn’t it be a standard part of health care to reuse any and all medical devices obtainable from the dead either in this country or overseas?

Well, it is true that medical equipment companies are not thrilled about reusing expensive medical equipment. Selling you a new one is more profitable then recycling a used one. Still, when it comes to products such as automobiles, vacuum cleaners, houses and furniture, there are plenty of customers for previously used, older things. Why not pacemakers and other medical equipment?

The answer is risk. Americans won’t accept more than a tiny iota of risk in their medicines and medical devices.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.