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July 29, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

The goal of the Bill & Miranda Gates Foundation Family Planning program is “to bring access to high-quality contraceptive information, services, and supplies to an additional 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020 without coercion or discrimination, with the longer-term goal of universal access to voluntary family planning.”  This is an extremely important endeavor and I'm glad that this program is devoting so many resources to achieving its goal. 

MicroCHIPS, a company based in Lexington Massachusetts, is one of the companies/organizations working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Family Planning program. They are developing a contraceptive chip that can be implanted under a women's skin. The chip, just 20 x 20 x 7 millimetres, would deliver daily dose hormones and could last up to 16 years. The chip will be controlled by remote control so that if a woman decides she wants to become pregnant, she can deactivate the chip. When she wants to resume contraceptive use, she can reactivate the chip.

This technology has at least three significant benefits. First, it is long-acting so a woman doesn't need to worry about contraception use during each sexual act. Not only is this convenient for her, but it also means that her partner does not need to be involved in or even know about her contraceptive use. Second, this technology is user independent so its effectiveness is not reduced by human error. User independent contraceptives (e.g. IUD) typically have much lower failure rates than user dependent contraceptives (e.g. male condom). 

Third, and unique to the contraceptive chip, is that a woman can continue to have this contraceptive in her body even when she is actively trying to conceive. If a woman is using another type of hormonal method, she needs to stop its use completely by not allowing it into her body at all, such as by not taking oral contraceptives or by not applying the hormonal patch. Barrier methods, like the IUD or the cervical cap, must also be removed entirely from the body. The contraceptive chip, however, can remain in the body in an inert status. The ability to remotely control the chip allows the woman to resume her contraceptive method whenever she wants, such as after the birth of a child, without having to see a healthcare professional like she would if she wanted to have an IUD reinserted or to return to using the pill. Given this chip could last for up to 16 years, it is a convenient option for women who want a long-acting contraceptive method they can easily stop when they want to become pregnant and resume after childbirth.

There are many benefits to this contraceptive chip, especially for women in low resource areas who do not have good access to medical care, I do have some major concerns, namely surrounding control over and security for the contraceptive chips. Who would be authorized users of the chips: women, their doctors, others (e.g. government, women’s partners, etc.)? How can we ensure that others cannot gain unauthorized access to the chips? I worry about someone activating or deactivating in the contraceptive chip without women's knowledge or permission. If we are able to guarantee the safety of the information on the chip, then this could be an attractive option for women.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

2 comments | Topics: Reproductive Medicine, Women's Reproductive Rights

Comments

janis

janis wrote on 07/29/14 4:24 PM

Where is the chip implanted? Can someone see the chip or feel it under the skin? These questions are important because the women may not want her partner to know she has the chip implanted. A worthy investment for many reasons for women.
Lisa Campo-Engelstein

Lisa Campo-Engelstein wrote on 08/04/14 6:10 PM

Thanks for your comment! I believe the chip will be implanted in the arm and don't think others will really be able to notice it. You raise the important point that a woman may not want others, including her partner, to know she has the chip.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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