Ethical Issues



            One of the main issues related to 3D printing is piracy. Because files can be easily copied, users have the ability to reproduce products as long as they have access to a 3D printer. Nowadays, torrent websites offer copyrighted files such as music and movies. In the future, these websites will be capable of providing the instructions to print objects. According to an article in Time, The Pirate Bay published the following statement:

“We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”

As the prices of 3D printing falls, the producing companies’ profit is going to fall too. As it happens today with music, many people are going to pursue the cheaper, faster way of getting products rather than buying them to the companies. Although companies could encrypt the files containing the information for 3D printing of products, they would not be able to fully prevent their illegal distribution. People would therefore be able to download illegal copies of MP3, watches, tools, and many other things. This is a factor that might discourage producers to take advantage of the 3D printing technology. 

Ethical Issues with Printing Organs

            Dr. Anthony Atala has recently stated that 3D printing technology provides the ability to build and repair human organs. According to studies at the Wake Forest University, scientists will be able to do this by incorporating cells in 3D printing. This technological advance would allow us to instantly solve many health issues. For instance, by using people's cells, doctors will be able to immediately - or in a short period of time, at least - reproduce and exact copy of a kidney, pancreas, or lung that would not be rejected by the patient's body. Additionally, this technology would provide a faster way to heal wounds. According to Dr. Atala's research, doctors will be able to print the required cells directly on a person's skin. 

           While this technology is a clear scientific and medical breakthrough, it is also widely controversial. Similar to the cloning of animals – and possibly humans, in the future – the printing of organs produces significant ethical issues. Many associate this topic to religion, debating that only God should be able to produce live beings – or parts of them. Furthermore, this development would possibly give way to a new industry: the selling of cloned (copied and then printed) organs. Though this would be somewhat similar to organ donations, its artificial nature makes it debatable. 

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