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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
SJR: 0.123

ISSN Print: 2151-805X
ISSN Online: 2151-8068

Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

DOI: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.2014012087
pages 39-50

Allergic to Technology: Ethics and the "Electrically Hypersensitive" Individual

Kenneth R. Foster
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 19104
G. James Rubin
King's College London, Department of Psychological Medicine, Weston Education Centre, London, United Kingdom


Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields (IEI-EMF) is a medically unexplained condition characterized by a wide variety of nonspecific symptoms that an individual attributes to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) in the environment produced by commonplace technologies. This article briefly reviews the scientific basis of the condition and some of the ethical issues raised by it. Taken as a whole, provocation studies have shown that people with IEI-EMF are unable to detect when they are being exposed to EMF with a probability greater than chance; IEI-EMF is a self-diagnosed condition by affected individuals. Ethical issues raised by IEI-EMF are generally similar to those raised by other forms of medically unexplained illness; however, they have significant social implications in view of the reliance of modern society on the electromagnetic spectrum. Implications for social policy include how to respond to the desires of affected individuals to be protected against the effects of low-level EMF in the environment, and possible harms to the individuals from well-meaning but inappropriate treatment. High-quality research and registration of clinical trials to improve treatment of the condition are needed.

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