Printing Bones

An 83-year-old woman has had her lower jaw replaced with one constructed by a 3D printer. The patient’s lower jaw was so badly infected that it required a complete replacement. Following imaging of the woman’s jaw, a new one was crafted from titanium powder in only a few hours. A day later the woman was talking and swallowing.

Here’s a video showing a similar process that’s used to create scaffolding upon which living bone may grow.

This isn’t technology we need to fear, but we do need to take time to situate it in comprehensive set of binding bioethical standards. Surgical replacement via 3D printer is no different than replacing a hip or heart valve. There are, however, futurists who are completely untethered from any ethical concerns, and envision a future of full human organ synthesis, with the endgame being recreation of the entire human body in an attempt to either transplant a brain into a fresh body and thus extend life unnaturally, or create new people from scratch.Technology to do this does not exist, but something similar may be possible in the future.

At some point, we are going to enter a gray area where we lose track of right and wrong in our use of these technologies. There will come a tipping point where we transition from using our God-given intellects and abilities to solve medical problems, and start using those intellects and abilities to become gods. It will take a sound and powerful set of bioethical standards to keep this technology from spiraling out of control. Thus far, modern society has shown itself utterly incapable of creating and abiding by any such standards.

Every person working in the field of medical research needs ask not just “can we?” but also “should we?”