Bioethics Blogs

Printing Resources & Prosthetic Hands

When discussing issues of technological development, specifically for use in the field of medicine, one aspect of bioethical consideration includes the determining the allocation of this new resource. In many (not all) situations, the allocation can be driven by cost: those who can afford the resource get it, while those who cannot afford it do not. While this does not completely seem out of line with the market principles many embrace in the United States, it does not always align with the bioethical concern for promoting justice. Often, even in situations where all other bioethical concerns are fully addressed, there is the unresolved issue of cost. So as these medical breakthrough technologies emerge, often we find ourselves in dilemma: do we limit the use of medical innovation to those who can afford it, or, as the principle of justice may lead, do we offer up the new resource to all in need without consideration of the cost (this assuming that the only limitation on the resources availability is prohibitive costs – not a lack of ability to produce more).

In the case of a recent innovation, however, affordability and innovative medical technology are not mutually exclusive. Thanks the technologies of 3D printing, prosthetic hands are now available for children for costs as low and $20-$50 USD. This makes the use of this innovation attainable to many families who would not be able to afford many of the prosthetics currently available, especially for growing children who need to replace the prosthetic more frequently. Although these printed prosthesis may not work for everyone, they have made an expensive medical technology affordable for many people, effectively addressing the bioethical concern for justice in the distribution of medical resources.

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.