Focus on Ethics

The field of blood substitute technology is developing all the time as scientists pursue an effective alternative to the use of human donor blood for transfusion procedures. The problem is that in synthesizing red blood cells, scientists encapsulate hemoglobin Inside biodegradable polymer membranes. This process stabilizes the hemoglobin but prevents its breakdown in the bloodstream, a situation that can lead to kidney problems. In addition, clinical trials in the United States indicate that using blood substitutes results in a 30 percent increase in a person's risk of death and nearly as high of a risk of a person having a heart attack. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association faulted the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for not promptly analyzing previous studies of the same nature. The study also claimed that the risks of using blood substitutes were evident as early as 2000. The FDA claimed it was aware of these risks but deemed some synthetic-blood products nonetheless worthy of further research. Some critics are pushing for more stringent legislation governing product testing, particularly if there are potentially significant health risks.

1. Is there a market for synthetic blood? Why might the military view synthetic blood as a viable product?

2. Given the medical problems associated with using synthetic blood, is it ethical to market such a product?

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