Sensors Mag

Are You My Kidney's Nephew?

July 5, 2006 By: Stephanie vL Henkel, Sensors


E-mail Stephanie vL Henkel

I know I've annoyed those of you who think RFID technology is the cat's pajamas wherever and however deployed, such as national ID cards and bugs in my pants. I don't like those applications one bit. But I've also pointed out where those chips are not being used but should be. Today I want to bring you a brief report on a deeply disturbing news story that will make you rise up and demand RFID tags.

Alert to the Squeamish!

It turns out that diseased tissue, bone, and organs have been both unethically and illegally scavenged (the practice is called "harvesting") from cadavers—for implantation into the living. When I contemplate this, a sound goes off in my head that I can best transcribe as a quavering broooo. The transplant part is not the nightmare. Healthy, functional skin, bones, organs, and corneas have been harvested for years by reputable "cutters" working in reputable hospitals and morgues. The trusting and reputable (I sure hope) transplant surgeons receiving this bounty have had no reason to squint. Well, now they do.

Tag 'Em, Dano

Why not require each still-useful item that someone grew and then jettisoned when leaving this world be implanted with a little chip? (This would not work with corneas, but the problem seems not to exist with those structures.) The technology's ready and, given the horror of this deception, might help drive the tag's price down to the much-desired 5¢ area. Even if the chips remain fairly pricey in the quantities likely to be needed, when you consider the consequences of getting something bogus sewn into yourself the dollar sign suddenly shrinks in importance. The tags would carry pertinent data including to whom the harvested item once belonged, that person's medical history, and, most important, cause of death. Hey, if I were getting a kidney I'd want to know its pedigree. Wouldn't you?

No $30.00 Rolexes

Which brings me to a the wider topic of fakes. Companies as unsuspecting as those transplant surgeons have been buying outsourced components of dubious quality and provenance. The idea is to get the best deals, as in, the cheapest products. They don't always turn out to be such a good idea when irate buyers return purchases such as cell phones whose batteries explode or toasters that either implode or ignite the wall behind them after their resistance coils hit something like 12°F. This country has begun to march to the drum of lawsuits.

There has been considerable effort to counter such fakery by creating intricate logos and strings of part numbers that are particularly hard to convincingly reproduce. All well and good. Yet somehow a deranged toaster is less alarming than the chance of receiving a transplanted piece of bone from someone who has perished with—or from— bone cancer.

Sunlight Harvesting Only

So at the risk of really enraging those who think the best government is the one that does the least, I vote for governmental supervision (by those who know their onions) and tight control over those medical RFID chip implants. It's up to the engineers to design tags (and dependable coatings) that can't be tampered with in the way it's all too easy to fudge or modify a paper trail. Think about this for a minute and see if you agree.


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