For centuries, Asian artists have known how to inscribe a person's name on a single grain of rice.
Now scientists have learned how to inscribe a person's complete medical history on a tiny implant of the same size and hide it in a person's body.
The thought is somewhat daunting. All the horror stories of "bar codes on foreheads" quickly surface. But medical science is determined to march ahead. The responsibility of lawmakers and citizens is to make sure it does so with caution and within firm ethical boundaries.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light for Applied Digital Solutions — a Florida company — to market its new "VeriChip." The computer chip is implanted by syringe. There is no blood, no stitches. The procedure takes about 20 minutes.
The problem is, detractors fear it will lead to long-term complications — not medical complications, but social and political ones.
New advances are often greeted with a raised brow. But two good reasons to forge ahead are the nation's "health" and "safety."
Few realize, for instance, that fingerprinting has been around for more than a century. Mark Twain was the first author to include it in a story. And at the time, "invasion of privacy" was a serious fear. But law enforcement, for the most part, has proven to be a responsible steward of the process. The same might be said for DNA testing. Some feared every American would end up on a DNA file. That hasn't happened.
We feel it will not happen with the new VeriChip. And the benefits are impressive. By checking a VeriChip, medical personnel can "read" a person's medical concerns with a coded scanner — even when the patient is unconscious. The big debate, in fact, seems to be over how much medical information should be included on the chip. But that compromise can be hammered out. For the moment, the less the merrier.
And currently many medical records are found on sheets of paper in millions of files. Often a patient's doctor in one part of town has no clue what a doctor in another part of town has unearthed.
The VeriChip will help get everyone on the same page.
The first person whose life is saved by a VeriChip will be the best argument for its use. We urge the nation to move ahead on a volunteer basis. We also urge all involved to stay vigilant for abuses.
Let the conspiracy buffs move on to new ground.