Do Chip Implants Protect or Violate Privacy?

A care facility's plan to electronically tag Alzheimer's patients spurs outrage.

ByABC News
May 17, 2007, 5:53 PM

May 18, 2007— -- A Florida adult-care facility is going ahead with plans to implant identity chips into patients with Alzheimer's disease who are in its care, despite protests that it is a form of branding.

Alzheimer's Community Care in West Palm Beach will implant a radio frequency identification chip into Alzheimer's patients with the consent of their families or the patients themselves if they are deemed competent.

The chip, which is slightly larger than a grain of rice, is implanted under the skin of the right forearm. Each chip will contain a unique 16-digit number that, when scanned in an emergency room, will link to the patient's medical records.

Mary Barnes, the president and CEO of Alzheimer's Community Care, said the RFID chips, manufactured by VeriChip Corp., provided the best means of giving medical personnel access to a patient's medical history, since people with Alzheimer's often cannot relay that information themselves.

"Our patients are the most fragile and vulnerable of any population," Barnes said.

While the RFID implants have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, VeriChip is testing the effectiveness of the chips in a real-world situation to see if Alzheimer's patients with the chip receive "quicker and better treatment" than those without, said VeriChip CEO Scott Silverman.

Opponents of the chip program say it raises serious ethical considerations.

"This whole medical trial really raises some pretty important issues about informed consent," said Katherine Albrecht, the founder of the advocacy group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Albrecht is concerned that Alzheimer's patients are being enrolled in what she considers a potentially risky study without their consent.

When the FDA approved VeriChip's product, it mentioned potential problems, including electromagnetic interference, failure of the chip to function properly and adverse bodily reactions.