Although at times a strange hybrid of Gareth Malone meets the Hairy Bikers set against a menacing Hammer Horror soundtrack, there was quite a lot in the recent Channel 4 documentary How to Build a Bionic Man that interested me.   I understood what Dr Bertolt Meyer meant about the creepiness of almost- human-looking prosthetics, his distress at the rather sweet beardy roboticists’ inability to comprehend the complex feelings the robot evoked in him and his fear that he’d be shown an incredible artificial limb that he would really want but would not be able to get.  (I used to have prosthetic knee envy but now I really, really want one of Hugh Herr’s bionic ankles NOW).  Amongst all the technical and surgical wizardry, the bigger ethical issues were only briefly touched upon.  George Annas, Professor of Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University asked whether, given the astronomical cost of the research and production of these advanced prosthetics and artificial organs, it was right that only the very rich would ever benefit from them, but also whether it would be ethical to stop the development until it was figured out how to make an equal society where everyone would benefit from the advances?  Compared to the prosthetics showcased in the programme, the first generation microprocessor controlled knee that I’ve been unsuccessfully asking to at least try, is about as sophisticated as the wooden leg that Josiah Wedgwood had his cabinet-maker knock up for him in 1764.  But it still remains tantalisingly out of reach of all but a tiny minority of amputees. While the cutting edge research continues, wouldn’t it be good if there was some commitment by the prosthetics companies and the NHS to change this?  Come on – if Gareth Malone can get the Military Wives to number one…

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/how-to-build-a-bionic-man/4od