Most medical devices are designed for the purpose of assisting people who are sick or suffering. But what if you were asked to design a device that addressed the suffering in a method in which you disagreed? Or the device was to be used in a procedure that went against your own personal beliefs? Several members of industry shared their thoughts.
If the intended purpose of a device upon which you were working went against your personal beliefs (e.g., an assisted-suicide machine), would you remove yourself or ask to be removed from the project?
"Know thyself"while which ancient Greek first uttered the phrase is uncertain, technology has since both improved the human condition and created moral and ethical gray areas that could not have been imagined by those Greeks. Today, the question of whether to support a project one finds morally or ethically repugnant can easily become more than hypothetical at some point.
How would I respond in that situation? While I remain well short of self-actualized, I know myself well enough to know my answer"No." This response is not rooted in any sense of moral superiority, and I do not fault those who, for reasons specific to their own circumstances, would have a different answer. I have learned the hard way that there are things in life that should be protected, even at high costs, and a sense of personal integrity is one of those things. I am fortunate in having enough options for making my way in the world that compromising my integrity to make a buck is avoidable. I hope my sense of self allows me to continue to say that with confidence as circumstances change.
If a medical device's sole purpose goes against our personal convictions, the question becomes a matter of integrity and the best choice is clear, although sometimes difficult. The more troublesome case is when the device could be used for both good and bad purposes. Then we must wrestle with some questions:
Ultimately each person must decide based on their own reason and conscience whether to participate. Also, managers must be sensitive to their employees because, if an employee has reservations about a product, their performance will suffer and they may even resign.
My personal motivation comes from seeing my creations used to improve people's lives. Because of this, I pursue projects where I have no doubts about the device's use. Otherwise, my basic impetus for doing my work would be destroyed.
The question is posed as a moral dilemma, but our dilemma centers on success of the project. For instance, although I don't believe in prolonging a person's life if there is no chance for recovery, I would work on a life support system. We know that there are times, and unfortunately we don't know when they are going to occur, that the real benefit of a device or project may not be immediately apparent to me or our group. The result is that we don't categorically turn down certain types of projects. It's our job to give qualified customers what they want. If we are working with a customer who has experience developing devices in a specific field, we believe that they are in the best position to know why they want to develop a project and if they want to afford it.
We will, however, decline to bid on a project if the prospect is not prepared, or we feel that it has only a small probability of success. Sometimes, we are more aware of market viability or that the prospect has not considered a key element that would doom the project. Inadequate funding, an inadequate business plan, or disregarding the laws of physics are red flags for us. We don't want to take an investor's money for a poorly conceived project.
Doing work on a controversial device is not a black and white, clear-cut issue. My actions would depend upon the particular situation. If a device were clearly illegal, I would not participate in its development, and I would not let my company participate. If I disagreed mildly with its intended use, I would work on it. I have done work on a device to be used with breast implants, even though I would not want my wife or daughter to use implants. An assisted-suicide machine is not illegal in all states, although a court ruling could change that. There are circumstances in which I might wish to be allowed to use such a machine myself, but I am very concerned about its overuse. I would probably not work on such a machine, but I might if I were satisfied with the nature of the machine and the safeguards for its use. The specifics of the particular situation would determine my actions.
Senior Manager, Medical Products Group, Microchip Technology Inc.
I guess the most honest answer would be, "It depends." Like most people, I was attracted to my current field by its alignment with my interests and values. If that alignment were significantly diminished, I would naturally start looking for another position. Likewise, if an individual project went against my personal beliefs, I would have to consider removing myself from it.
It's really a question of degrees. Assuming a continuous pipeline of other projects that would preclude any financial or professional consequences, life is too short to work on projects that make me uncomfortable. But in reality, there is not always another project and most jobs demand some measure of grinning and bearing it. As long as the project is reasonably aligned with my values, I'll be able to find satisfaction in it.
On the other hand, to some degree, designers are defined by the things they create and, even in today's economy, a good paying job isn't worth sacrificing peace of mind. Come to think of it, a project that anguished me enough to make me debate whether or not I should continue working on it would probably be better off without me anyway.
One can argue that working on a project that went against your personal beliefs would have a negative impact on productivity and quality levels; therefore, it would be in the company's best interest to remove those who were against the project. However, you should reflect on what you believe and how strongly. As an employee, you are a representative of the company. Your values and beliefs are associated with the company and vice versa. I would have to question if I was a good fit for the company, or if I could influence change within that company.
By simply removing yourself from a project will not change anything. The conflict of interest still exists and poses a burden on others within the company. It would be important to do a self assessment to determine: 1) is this is something I can live with; 2) something I want to influence for a change; or 3) remove myself from the situation. Once a decision has been made, it is important to stand by it to make the strongest impact.