Birth control is a revolution.
Before I met my husband Steve, I had grown weary of fighting for equal time — or any time at all — with the remote control to my television. Every man I’d known had merged with my remote upon entering my apartment. They became inseparable.
At the beginning of our relationship, one of the first things I told Steve was, “Everybody has baggage, and mine is a chip on my shoulder regarding the remote.” When I told him I had to have control of it, he looked startled. But lucky for me, he was amused, and it’s been a non-issue … for the most part.
What is it with guys and remotes? Wouldn’t it be cool if women had our very own remote control? But, wait a minute, it’s one thing to talk about remote-controlling TV, but what if you had a wireless device implanted into your body that could prevent pregnancy? Would you want it?
Thanks to $5 million from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a Massachusetts company called MicroCHIPS, a remote-controlled birth control microchip is expected to go into pre-clinical trials next year, and MicroCHIPS is aiming to make it available to the public as early as 2018 pending FDA approval.
The device is a .8 x .8 x .28-inch chip that gets implanted into a woman’s body by way of her butt, belly or upper arm. Operated by remote, it releases a contraceptive drug called levonorgestrel. The chip, invented by a team of scientists at MIT, is designed to last 16 years and sounds a heckuva lot easier than a diaphragm. So what’s the catch?
Katie Sola of Mashable questioned the security of the chip: “Could a hacker access the system and flood a woman’s bloodstream with levonorgestrel, causing miscarriage or even death?” Yikes, that’s a scary thought. Robert Farra, MicroCHIPS President and COO said, “We’ve designed the product with security and safety in mind.” Hmm. Not sure if that’s enough of a reassurance.
Jay Radcliffe of cybersecurity firm Rapid7 famously hacked his own diabetic insulin pump in 2011 to prove a point. “In every device I’ve evaluated in my career I’ve always found a way to get in.”
In ExtremeTech, Sebastian Anthony wrote, “Obviously the wireless remote control is only useful if it remains in the hands of the woman with the implant. You also can’t rule out the possibility of outside actors remotely hacking the implant to turn it off — so the woman might think she’s protected, but isn’t.”
Now, let’s ponder the reverse: What if a woman has turned off the device in order to get pregnant? Is it possible that the man in her life who doesn’t want a kid might be able to turn it back on wirelessly, without her knowledge?
And what about how fast technology changes? This contraceptive chip is designed to last for 16 years, but three months is an eon in the field of tech. How can any scientist or production firm foresee what may happen in future decades? On the other hand, if MicroCHIP can successfully secure its device, it could be really cool.
Then again, you know those times you’ve had too much to drink and sent an e-mail you shouldn’t have? What if you’re drunk one night and think, “Oh, wouldn’t a baby be cute?” You could do some serious damage much worse than drunk dialing. With one lapse in judgment and a touch to your remote, you could live to deeply regret how easy it was to turn off that chip.