The advancement of technology in health care is ever-expanding. From gene therapy to life extension to ingestible nanotechnology, the developments can seem infinite and near-miraculous. But are we ready to accept them? Over the past few years, the Pew Research Center has conducted and published numerous surveys on the subject. We compiled the highlights to give you an idea of where we stand as a country on adopting various new practices into our health-care culture.
Wearable tracking devices for working out or wellness monitoring have become a billion-dollar business, but surveys show more people choose pen and paper or their memory. “Seven in ten (69%) U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or a loved one and many say this activity has changed their overall approach to health,” according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
Biomedical technologies are on the rise in nearly every sector of the health-care industry. While many of the prospects seem exciting and encouraging, the majority of people remain skeptical. In 2016, the research center reported, “Americans are more worried than enthusiastic about using gene editing, brain chip implants and synthetic blood to change human capabilities.” When Americans are questioned about the prospect of these specific kinds of enhancements for healthy people, their views are cautious and often resistant:
- Majorities of U.S. adults say they would be “very” or “somewhat” worried about gene editing (68%), brain chips (69%) and synthetic blood (63%).
- More say they would not want enhancements of their brains and their blood (66% and 63%, respectively) than say they would want them (32% and 35%).
- U.S. adults are closely split on the question of whether they would want gene editing to help prevent diseases for their babies
- (48% would, 50% would not).
- At least seven in ten adults predict each of these new technologies will become available before they have been fully tested or understood.
- Majorities say these enhancements could exacerbate the divide between haves and have-nots.
- For instance, 73% believe inequality will increase if brain chips become available because initially they will be obtainable only by the wealthy.
Genetic engineering remains one of the most controversial subjects surrounding the future of health care and wellness. Conversations surrounding these topics include the following:
- About seven in ten Americans (72%) say that changing an unborn baby’s genetic characteristics to treat a serious disease or condition that the baby would have at birth is an appropriate use of medical technology.
- But just 19% of Americans say it would be appropriate to use gene editing to make a baby more intelligent.
In general, “most Americans accept genetic engineering of animals that benefits human health, but many oppose other uses,” according to a 2018 survey. Presented with five different scenarios of animal genetic engineering that are currently available, in development or considered possible in the future, Americans provide majority support only for the two that have clear potential to preempt or ameliorate human illness.
- 70% of Americans believe that genetically engineering mosquitoes to prevent their reproduction and therefore the spread of some mosquito-borne diseases would be an appropriate use of technology.
- 57% majority considers it appropriate to genetically engineer animals to grow organs or tissues that could be used for humans needing a transplant.
- 43% say the creation of more nutritious meat for human consumption is appropriate.
- 32% say restoring an extinct animal species from a closely related species is appropriate.
- 21% of Americans consider it an appropriate use of technology to genetically engineer aquarium fish to glow using a fluorescence gene, while 77% say this is taking technology too far.
Anti-Aging and Life Extension
Radically extending the lives of humans using wellness technologies isn’t a new topic; it’s discussed in Hollywood movies as often as in cutting-edge medical circles. But the reality of it has never been closer. However, not everyone sees it as a positive direction.
- 56% say they personally would not want medical treatments that slow the aging process.
- 69% say their ideal life span is between 79 and 100 years.
- 51% say medical treatments that slow the aging process are bad for society.
- 25% say the average person will live to at least 120 years old by the year 2050.