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DIY Surgery: Coming Soon to a Home Near You?

It is either a sign of how far we’ve come as a technology-based society or how far we’ve fallen in our ability to provide high quality health care to the masses. Your viewpoint is most likely based on your own ability to access health care. With a doctor at the ready and an insurance card in your pocket you might view such a thing with a kind of macabre fascination; an “I can’t believe people do that!” sort of reaction. However, if you’re one of the millions without adequate health care; either as a result of income or geography, the fact that people are using the internet to learn how to operate on themselves might be old news to you.

An entire sub-culture of people performing DIY, or do-it-yourself, medical procedures is springing up and, like most things, computers and the internet are leading its growth.

A quick search of YouTube for “DIY surgery” yields over 82,000 results. In seconds, visitors can watch other people perform everything from a bullet extraction to a tonsillectomy; all done outside of a hospital and without the watchful eye of a surgeon. More often than not, the one performing the “procedure” and the “patient” are the same – DIYers usually “operate” on themselves.

The integration of robots and machines is, obviously, the next step in this evolution and at least one person is imagining a day when initiating a basic surgery is as simple as clicking the print command on a computer. A Dutch-born designer has conceptualized the Open Surgery Machine; a theoretical device which would learn surgical procedures from plans downloaded from online medical databases and then perform those procedures on “patients” as needed.

The idea draws inspiration from the growing impact of 3D printing and our increasing ability to bring an idea from concept to physical reality with ease. In many cases, plans for a 3D printed object don’t even need to come from the device’s owner. Schematics for everything from dolls and figurines to tools and machine parts can be downloaded and then “printed;” creating a tangible and functional item in just a few hours.

Whether such a device will ever come to fruition remains to be seen as there are myriad reasons; ethical, moral, financial, legal, and otherwise, why such a thing might be better off remaining in the realm of the theoretical. In the meantime, self-surgeries continue to grow, along with the repercussions of non-trained people operating on themselves.