So here’s an idea that seems good at first, until you actually start thinking about it: remote controlled birth control. Who’s got the remote? GOOD QUESTION.
The Gates Foundation has pumped $4.6 million into a startup called MicroCHIPS, which has developed an implant that is capable of delivering steady, regular doses of hormones to control fertility for up to 16 years. When a woman is ready to start a family, her doctor simply disables the implant remotely, and then restarts it when she wants to prevent additional pregnancies.
Before we get into all the millions of ways this could go wrong, let’s take a minute to marvel at the intricacy of the tech, itself. The device, which measures 20x20x7 millimeters, is implanted under the skin of the abdomen, arm, or buttocks, similar to the way Implanon works. But that’s where the similarities end.
The implant works by creating an electric current that temporarily melts a hermetic titanium and platinum seal, releasing 30 micrograms of levonorgestrel into the blood stream. The tiny implant’s reservoir holds 16 years’ worth of hormones.
The device will begin pre-clinical testing in 2015 and, barring roadblocks or complications, it could be on the market by 2018, making it the only hormonal birth control device capable of lasting for more than five years.
What makes it so unique is that it can be started and stopped at any time without an outpatient procedure or a trip to a clinic. More importantly, though, if the dosage is too high, the doctor can adjust it remotely. This is important, considering so many women have to experiment with different forms of hormonal birth control before landing on the one that’s right for them. This could potentially mean that a patient would only need to call up her doctor and ask for a fine-tuning, rather than finishing out one pack of pills and starting a new one next month.
The idea for the device came from none other than Bill Gates when he visited the MIT lab two years ago. Originally, the device was created for the treatment of osteoporosis, but Gates and his colleagues asked whether it could be used as a form of birth control. Shortly thereafter, the technology was licensed to MicroCHIPS, which has raised $25.7 million.
A remote-controlled implant that delivers daily doses of hormones to prevent pregnancy? What could go wrong?!
Well, let’s start with the fact that medical devices are extremely vulnerable to hacking. One study found that it would be incredibly easy for hackers to tamper with drug infusion pumps, Bluetooth-enabled defibrillators, X-rays, medical records, and even temperature settings on refrigerators storing blood and drugs. It’s also possible for hackers to wipe out the configurations on blue-screen devices to take down critical equipment during an emergency.
In a political climate in which birth control has become synonymous with whoredom, one can only imagine the bull’s eye that would be painted on this device.
And then there’s that whole pesky eugenics possibility. A recent investigation turned up a spate of forced sterilizations performed on female inmates in California prisons, in some cases while they were on the operating table to get a C-section. Other studies and class-action lawsuits have shown that coerced and forced sterilizations largely target women of color and low-income women. Between 1970 and 1976, an estimated 25-50% of Native American women were forcibly sterilized without their consent, many of whom were under the age of 21.
So, it’s not that crazy to cast some side-eye on a birth control device that could be entirely controlled by another person, remotely.