Nanotechnology: Medical Engineering


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Nanotechnology is technology, science, and engineering that is carried out at the nanoscale which is approximately 1-100 nanometers. This technology can be applied across several fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and material science. Nanotechnology has been associated with a number of benefits ranging from improvement of food production methods, energy systems, nanomedicine, physical enhancement, to water purification techniques. This paper discusses some predictions regarding the social consequences of this form of technology as well as the ethical concerns it has raised.

Medical Ethics: Negative Eugenics and Genetic Discrimination

Some of the ethical questions that have been raised in recent times are as a result of the advancement of nanotechnology in the same scope as gene therapy. For instance, the discovery of highly specific drug therapies may lead to genetic discrimination, that is, discrimination that is subjected solely on individuals or families based on the apparent reason that their genotype is not similar to that of the normal human genotype.

The main issue is based on the perception of de-selection of characteristics of individuals (known as negative eugenics) who may be judged unwanted by the society (Khan, 2014). Moreover, concerns have also been raised over the application of nanotechnology in improving the performance of the human body. The major question that has been raised here is if such improvements can be forced upon human beings either when they are in a better position to willingly make such a decision for themselves or the decision is made against their will.

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The Divide between the Rich and the Poor

According to Khan, in a world where information is cheap and abundant, severe privacy implications can be witnessed among those who cannot afford to connect (Khan, 2014). However, little consideration has been given to individuals that will not be in a position to afford to take part. Actually, several nations across the globe are witness this IT divide, more so in reference to the use of the internet that correlates to the uneven wealth distribution.

There is a likelihood of any threatening nanotechnology revolution to increase this gap forming a ‘nano-divide.’ The potential scale of this should not be underestimated. This transition from a pre-nano to a post-nano era can be extremely traumatic and aggravate the problem of haves and have-nots; differences that are quite striking. For instance, the World Bank has postulated that in the post nano world, the population of the developed countries will reduce from 12.7% of the current population to 8.6% by the year 2025 whereas the population of the developing countries will double up (Hunt and Mehta, 2013).

Unfortunately, the nano-tech inspired applications can only serve just 8.6% of the people that will be living in Western countries as well as the upper class individuals in developing and non-developing countries. Nanotechnology will not be feasible for the rural poor and the underside of all urban populations. The variations in the quality of life between these countries will be starker than the way they are currently.

Nanotechnology as a tool of Arms Race

Nano-tech has a potential of affecting the dangerous and destabilizing developments of the existing designs of nuclear weapons such as the fourth generation nuclear weapons (Sparrow, 2009). It is quite clear that if some countries start developing offensive weapons using this form of technology, they will prompt other nations to also develop more sophisticate defensive systems using similar technology.

This outcome is expected to be swift and lopsided especially if one side has the weapons and the other does not have. Therefore, technological superiority will play a central role in deciding who wins the war. Definitely, much more research will be developed as nano-tech matures.

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Nano-tech Regulation Issues

Debates have been raised on the question of whether this technology and its products require special regulation by the government. This is because of rising demand of assessing new substances before releasing them into the market, environment, and community. Several regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug administration in US have concentrated their efforts in identifying potential risks posed by nanoparticles.

Unfortunately, till now none of these particles or products that contain them has special regulation regarding production, handling, or labeling. This may worsen potential human and environmental safety concerns.

Environmental Issues

Some nanoparticles are disposed off to the environment in their functional state. For instance, nanoparticles from silver are used to control odor in clothes. However, they are lost in their functional form when clothes are washed and they may hazardous to man and other living organisms. For instance, studies have proved that silver exposure to human beings can cause diseases such as argyrosis and argyria. Moreover, silver can also kill beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria that are essential in keeping the soil healthy.  

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Nanotechnology is likely to have significant social impacts on the following features; health and medicine, power balance between the citizens and the government, and the balance of power between citizens and respondents. When responding to the social impacts of nanotechnology it is important to confront a few “philosophical questions” touching on the type of society mankind wishes to create and the contribution of technology to this society. In turn, this will result in development of institutions and processes that give the public a chance to exert real power in relation to trajectories of technology.


Hunt, G., & Mehta, M. (Eds.). (2013). Nanotechnology:” Risk, Ethics and Law”. Routledge.

Khan, A. S. (2014, May). Ethics and nanotechnology. In Ethics in Science, Technology and Engineering, 2014 IEEE International Symposium on (pp. 1-14). IEEE.

Sparrow, R. (2009). The social impacts of nanotechnology: an ethical and political analysisJournal of Bioethical Inquiry6(1), 13-23.

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