Robotic Surgery: Transforming Patient Care in the 21st Century?


  • Eunjeong Ma


Inspired by a notion that machines can emulate human touch, the paper first examines the adoption of surgical robots in operating rooms at the global and local levels. The adoption of the technology has occurred almost concurrently in many countries without much time lag, and this near-simultaneous acceptance of the technology invites us to rethink technological supremacy in relation to patient care in the field of surgery. With focus on the da Vinci surgical system, this paper presents social and ethical implications of how (not) to regulate robotic surgery with potential and invisible risks with respect to patient care. Based on documentary analysis of news media in combination with literature review of medical journals, Korean news media, and Korean technology assessment reports on surgical robots, the paper explores how prevalently the idea of social progress is embedded in the promotion of advanced technology at the societal and governmental levels. I contend that the ideology of social enhancement has served to shape regulatory practices (or their absence) at the expense of patient care in emergent technologies such as robotic surgery in South Korea. Thus, social scientists and bioethicists should be involved in articulating ethical dimensions of the technology even from the stage of development in order to remedy the gap between technical advancement in surgery and patient care.