Why contraception by remote control is a troubling idea
Forget about remembering to take a contraceptive pill. In just a few years, keeping track of your remote control may be as essential to family planning as it is to watching TV.
MicroCHIPS, a small, Massachusetts company with backing from Bill Gates plans to bring an implantable contraceptive chip that can be turned on or off via remote control to market as early as 2018. According to MIT Technology Review, the device can be implanted under the skin, and it “dispenses 30 micrograms a day of levonorgestrel, a hormone already used in several kinds of contraceptives. Sixteen years’ worth of the hormone fits in tiny reservoirs on a microchip 1.5 centimeters wide inside the device…. Passing an electric current through the seal from an internal battery melts it temporarily, allowing a small dose of the hormone to diffuse out each day.”
That means it outlasts all other forms of hormonal birth control, and unlike other implantable forms of contraception, the patient does not need a medical procedure to deactivate it. But while a clinician may not be needed to turn it on or off, its reliance on wireless technology makes it vulnerable to being turned on or off by someone with questionable motives.
No doubt, the makers will come up with an encryption mechanism to prevent the device from being activated without the woman’s consent, but if another party manages to break the encryption, the woman would be the last to know the chip has been hacked. And, a religion-backed government or any repressive government may seize the opportunity to impose its will on its womens’ reproductivity or population size.
The article does point to the promise of implant-based contraception being used in rural, third-world regions where the application can address a severe problem. But since wireless encryption methods can be cracked, a non-wireless security mechanism must be part of the chip before it goes to market. Otherwise, remote control contraception is a promising technology that – like all forms of contraception – brings risks. We may have to add hacking to the list.
For a counterpoint, read: Why this remote-controlled birth control will be the next big thing