Microchip Birth Control And The Bizarre Future Of Contraception

There are plenty of prototypes for contraception, but have they considered all the reasons why they might still not be the best choice for women?

In 2014 there was a buzz about a microchip implant that could become the new hope for birth control, specially for women with limited access to healthcare, whether due to geographical or economic reasons. The product, publicly backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, being developed by the company Microchips Biotech, would last for about 16 years and include a remote control for the user to turn the implant’s contraceptive capabilities on and off at will. But it’s been three years, and despite website and technology journal claims that it would be available in 2018, there’s still no information. This leads me to wonder whether the prototype worked and, if it did, what’s keeping it from being released?

I’m always wary of new forms of contraception. Why? Because I still have my doubts about the options currently out on the market. Despite health professionals telling us that it’s only normal to have side effects, which can go from mild to life-threatening, you don’t have to look far to find numerous accounts of women who’ve had reactions to “safe methods of contraception.” This is not including the percentage of women whose doctors have taken their birth control hostage. But, let’s go back to the shiny new forms of pregnancy prevention. Why should I be concerned? While the people behind the microchip have said that there’s no way these implants can be hacked, there’s still plenty of room for tampering.

There are currently two kinds of planned control over these implants. The first option is for the user to be provided with the remote to manage her birth control, implying that she can turn it on and off at will. An alternative is for her doctor or health care provider to be in charge of this remote. Dr. Robert Farra, who until 2016 was the president of Microchips Biotech, had spoken to the BBC about these concerns.

“Communication with the implant has to occur at skin contact level distance. (…) Someone across the room cannot re-programme your implant. (…) Then we have secure encryption. That prevents someone from trying to interpret or intervene between the communications."

While that’s comforting to a certain extent, I don’t know if anyone asked Dr. Farra the follow-up question of what happens when a woman’s birth control is tampered. One scenario can be a partner keeping the remote in their property to decide whether or not her contraceptive is turned on. There’s no way that could be controlled beforehand, since it’s possible for the other person to gain access of the remote. Another negative situation could be the woman’s doctor to decide for her, without her consent. It might sound outlandish and crazy, but we need to remember that there are still plenty of women who don’t have control over their fertility.

This remote birth control device has been planned for women who might not be able to have privileged access to healthcare. They might live in remote areas or simply be marginalized because the cost of contraception has skyrocketed, even in developed nations, because of changes in policies. Even women with insurance are having trouble keeping up with the price hikes. But, I think that if researchers and pharmaceutical companies truly want to create options for women, they need to consider social variables as well. There’s no point in having a high tech device that still puts women in a vulnerable position of someone else having a say in what happens to their bodies.

All images by Angie López


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