Could driverless cars cause problems for organ donation?

Since cars were invented and the first men began walking the road with flags to announce their impending arrival, there’s been an unfortunate side effect: people die on the roads. Of course today even with the numbers of cars increasing exponentially year on year, the numbers of deaths on roads (at least in terms of a per centage of drivers) have come down drastically, but even with the sad deaths of many thousands of road users every year across the globe, one silver lining is almost always found: their organs are used to save the lives of patients on the transplant list. The question we’re looking to answer today however, is whether driverless cars, with their potential to halt road tragedies in their tracks or at least cut back on them significantly, will lead us to more organ shortages than ever?

The answer is potentially, yes, very much so. Without the steady stream of sad victims that the auto-industry “gives,” the medical world, there will be real shortages of organs and there’s already never enough to go around. As it stands, there’s over 123,000 people on the waiting list for organs in the US, with nearly 20 people dying every day as they wait. There is potential to fix this however: 3D printing organs.

“We have this huge problem that we sort of don’t talk about, that people die all the time from car accidents,” said  CEO of the 3D printing company Makerbot, Bre Pettis, in an interview with Fortune. “It’s kind of insane. But the most interesting thing is, if we can reduce accidents and deaths, then we actually have a whole other problem on our hands of, ‘Where do we get organs?’ I don’t think we’ll actually be printing organs until we solve the self-driving car issue. The next problem will be organ replacement.”


Unfortunately though, Pettis doesn’t believe that 3D printing organs will be something we can do for some time yet, or certainly, it won’t be a technology that gets much focus of development until the self-driving technology causes the shortages that he’s predicting.

As it stands, the technology is there, but it needs a lot more development before companies or the governments of the world can start mass manufacturing replacement organs like we’ve just stepped into Bicentennial Man. As it stands, cells can be implanted into organ molds which can then grow into healthy organs, but it’s far from an exact science and it certainly needs refining.

However that could take years and the worrying thing is, in terms of organ donation at least, is that automated cars are just around the corner. Next year could see the first ones trialled on UK roads, which means that within 10 years we should have a few thousand zipping about, which even in those small numbers could reduce road deaths each year. Within 20 years, we could see large per centages of the population being driven about without intervention.

Hopefully by then we’ll have come up with an organ replacement solution, as cutting them out of our deceased friends and fellow humans seems a little barbaric in practice, even if the idea of recycling something as valuable as a human body is a morally righteous one.

Image sources: Google, SheepsClothing

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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