Sensors Mag

And the Second Report

August 2, 2006 By: Stephanie vL Henkel, Sensors


E-mail Stephanie vL Henkel

Yesterday I brought you a reader's dissenting opinion regarding whether the Sensor Net could have kept an unfortunate woman from being killed by falling ceiling panels in one of Boston's Big Dig tunnels. Today's opposing view addresses quite a different topic, but the two writers appear to share an underlying philosophy.

My Kidney's Pedigree

Truth in print: I have the kidneys I was born with. But I speculated in my July 5 report that if I were going to inherit someone else's I'd like assurance that it was not harvested from the carcass of a diabetic. An RFID chip implanted in every bit of tissue and bone headed for transplantation into the living would solve the problem of diseased matter being passed off as good. A respondent who wishes not to be identified, but whose bona fides I have verified, did not like my proposal. Here's what he wrote:

I disagree that RFID tags should be put into transplanted organs. I think it boils down to how much trust do you place in whom. I don't trust the government to keep the transport records straight and without corruption, I don't trust some in the medical industry to not mess with the data for their own benefit, and I don't trust any of them to keep the data secure.

Call me naive, but I think I have the means (through insurance) to use reputable doctors and hospitals that wouldn't risk their reputations by using black-market organs. So I don't feel much need for RFID tags to protect me for spare parts I might receive.

That may not be the case for un- or under-insured patients needing transplants. But I don't think the absence of an RFID tag in an organ is going to stop an unscrupulous surgeon from putting it into an inner-city laborer when there's thousands of $$ to be made in the deal. And there could easily spring up a black market for cloned RFID tags, so that laborer's kidney and mine might 'look' the same. Who would ever know?

But the real clincher for me is that once the organ is in, the tag is essentially not removable; but the database to which that rag refers is not under my control. The tag in my kidney would give me away wherever I go, and it's not like a sweater I can cut the tag out of or leave in the closet. One could argue for keeping transplant recipient information out of the database, but now we're back to the trust issue again. I don't trust the government not to monitor my phone calls or this email. Think of the eye-widening appeal at the Department of Homeland Security if they could indisputably identify anyone who has ever received an organ transplant. I live a rather uneventful life and really have little to be afraid of. But at least I have the option of leaving the sweater at home.

My Turn

If my correspondent has read some of our archived blogs, he will know that for the most part I am in his camp. On May 3 I wrote a piece vigorously objecting to a new type of driver's license with a built-in RFID chip that would be a Great Leap Forward toward universal IDs for U.S. citizens. And I followed up with an equally loud rant against active RFID tags sewn into my pants. And yet, I must still support some way of identifying and tracking harvested body parts without inviting function creep. Maybe RFID's not the way to go. I'll entertain other ideas.

Pulling It All Together

What all three (including the two from yesterday) reader responses share is a deep distrust of some central authority's benevolence, or its ability to prevent third-rate equipment, corrupted materials, or diseased tissue from wreaking havoc. Or its simply losing track of expensive gear that we taxpayers have laid out for. In a country more fixated on its president's underwear or religious persuasion than it is on domestic or foreign policy, this is not particularly astounding. But it is dispiriting.

I'm not about to debate my correspondents point by point—because I can't. From all I read and hear of national news, these readers are not part of some lunatic minority. Sometimes I wish they were, and sometimes I wish I were more worldly.

Gentle Readers! You can now send us your comments for direct posting. Keep scrolling down this page to the heading, "Post a Comment,"and there you will find a handy form that will not fail you. Please send word!


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