Artificial organs are used in medical practice to replace an organ or a failing function, and many prostheses have been developed for this purpose. Based on technical developments, the prostheses are increasingly efficient and not only can recover a lost function but sometimes do better than the organ or joint replaced which raises the question of enhancement. One of ethical questions is the boundary between the two. How far should the failing function be replaced? Increasing the individual’s abilities, is it acceptable?
Biotechnology and miniaturization of devices has enabled the development of genuine artificial organs such as the artificial heart which aims to replace the natural organ that is definitively and irreversibly altered. In such circumstances, the replacement of vital organs raises the issue of the duration and quality of survival. Since these situations are still experimental, ethical questioning concerns the conditions of the experiment, the choice of subjects, and the information given to them. The subject will have the choice between the artificial heart and ventricular assist devices that are used for several years. Ethical reflection on artificial prolongation of life and the decisions to switch off the assistance device will be presented.
Finally artificial organs pave the way to new technologies and to choices of research that might generate excessive belief by the public in machine reliability and provide excessive hopes.
KeywordsArtificial organs Ethics Prosthesis Artificial heart Enhancement Left ventricular assistance
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