November 20, 2012      


Although I consider myself to be a bioethicist, healthcare ethics educator, counselor at law and consultant, prior to returning to an academic setting, I practiced as a trial attorney with an emphasis in patient advocacy, bioethical, and biotechnology issues.

I currently hold a faculty appointment at the Alden March Bioethics Institute, Albany Medical Center; I am also a Fellow at the Institute for Emerging Technologies and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

My other honors include an appointment as a Senior Fellow at the American Medical Association?s Institute for Ethics, and being named a Women?s Bioethics Scholar. My research encompasses the legal, ethical, and social impact of emerging healthcare technologies, and evolving notions of legal personhood.

I would like to thank my co-counsel, Mark Senter of Dallas, Texas for his amazing lawyering skills, negotiation tactics and confidence; and I would like thank our client, Mr. Collins, who so graciously agreed to be the subject of discussion in this article.


In this article, I give a real-life case study (in which I was an attorney of record) where human machine mergers bring up several legal and ethical issues, including disability rights. I review some of the literature on this and discuss different practical ways practicing attorneys may approach the issues. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the parties.


A. Background

Mr. Collins is a 6 foot, 6 inch, 63-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran; he is an incomplete quadriplegic and classified as 100% disabled. He has had several laminectomies and spinal fusions from C-2 to C-6. In other words, he has no functional use of either of his legs and his left arm, and very limited use of his right arm.

He requires assistance to perform bathing and lower body dressing functions, for bowel and bladder care, and for transfers. He cannot use a manual wheelchair for any significant length of time, because his condition is such that if he should slip in his chair, he could fall into a position where he would be unable to breath. He is dependent upon a fully functional powered mobility assistance device (?MAD?), which can recline and protect him against hypotensive episodes and protect his legs from dragging along the ground.

Because Mr. Collins acquired this injury in service to his country, the Department of Veterans Affairs (?VA?) has provided him with a MAD specifically designed for him.

In October 2009, Mr. Collins was a passenger on a Allways Airlines flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico. His MAD, which weighs approximately 450 pounds, was damaged in transit. When Mr. Collins was given his chair, it was no longer functional.

The personnel from Allways Airlines were very apologetic and explained that the chair must have been dropped accidentally; they reassured Mr. Collins that his ?wheelchair? would be fixed promptly. It wasn?t until December 2010 that an engineer hired by Allways Airlines examined the MAD and condemned it. Mr. Collins did not receive his replacement MAD until October 1, 2010, eleven months later. He is confined to his home and essentially bedridden for eleven months.

(Continued in attached PDF)

See full case study in attached PDF: The Cyborgs Cometh
See also: The Cyborg Agenda: Blurring Body Boundaries