Normative implications of non-invasive instruments to analyze blood and tissue

This project is an example of embedded ethical research. It is embedded in the context of the daily research practices of a group of biophysical engineers under supervision of dr. Rob Kooyman in the faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Twente. This group is developing a non-invasive acousto-optic technique for the registration of chemical substances in blood, such as oxygen and glucose. The ethicist follows their daily activities and describes how the researchers deal with the ethical questions that are involved in the development of the technique; but she also engages with them in a conversation about their dealing with these issues. Additionally, the project aims to reflect on the role an ethicist can play in the context of technology research.The research tries to answer two core-questions.

  1. What moral and societal consequences of non-invasive monitoring should inform the development of this particular technology? (a) What are the plausible changes affected by the future use of non-invasive monitoring-technology? (b) How should these consequences be characterized from the perspective of ethics, and (c) to what extent can this ethical anticipation be considered relevant for those who participate in one way or another in the development of this technology? Answering this question implies that we have some knowledge about the consequences of technology that does not yet exist. Here we choose the approach of scenario-based design. We try to anticipate these consequences by exploring intended and unintended applications of the monitoring device; by articulating how the design of the artefact guides the behaviour of its users; and by drawing on a branch of philosophical pragmatism that investigates how technology and morality mutually shape each other. Two focusgroups, made-up of technology-researchers and medical experts, will also be invited to generate and share their views. In a second stage we explore the choices made during the technological design process, and co-deliberate with the technology developers how the design can reflect the hopes and fears about the future.
  2. The results of this first study provide the case-study for the second, more encompassing, research-question: To what extent and in what form can ethical awareness regarding technological design be raised, nurtured and institutionalized, without simply adding extra bureaucracy and administrative burdens on the technology developers? Building on the case-study performed, the research aims to develop practicable notions of collective and/or distributed responsibility that match the network-character of modern technology development instead of singling out the individual engineer. This will result in suggestions for a protocol.

During the project contact has been made also with other research-groups, such as the one of Wiendelt Steenbergen who develops a photo-acoustic technique for non-invasive breast-cancer detection. This technique has commonalities with the acousto-optic technique for blood-monitoring. Because of these commonalities, and the interesting ethical issues that attach to breast-cancer detection, the researcher (Simone van der Burg) has also looked at this research.