Millions are walking around with artificial body-parts to replace their own, be it from wear-and-tear, nonfunctioning components, or, for cosmetic reasons even. Ranging from hair and heart transplants to hip-joint and heart-valve replacements, the reasons they have been done boil down to a merger of high-tech innovations and man’s desire to live longer, better and comfortably.
These devices are expensive – hip-joint replacements can cost US$25,000, so do implantable heart defibrillators; a cochlear implant can set you back US$40,000. Again, technological advances in medicine have outstripped economic ability. Not many can afford these devices. Even in the US, Medicare will only partially subsidise the cost of fixing these devices – it pays for only 60% of hip-joint replacements. For those who cannot afford, should we consign them to permanent disability and leave them to die? This is an issue governments must face and decide, and its not an easy one.
Another problem is that these devices don’t always work and may require replacement after some time. The complaints can be minor, like a squeaky hip-joint (you can’t actually oil them!) ; or relatively major with lethal complications, like a faulty implantable heart defibrillator which will need repeat surgery. In fact, the usage of heart defibrillators have actually decreased in recent years due to numerous problems related to the device.(see here)
There was a time when, as we age, our body-parts wear out, leading to immobility,morbidity and death. Now, we can replace them and sing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Hip”(with apologies of course to James Brown and his 1965 hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”- listen to it here!)