Beware: The Misuse of Technology and the Law of Unintended Consequences

John M. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electronic monitoring of the fetal heart rate during labor (EFM), originally designed to assess fetal stress and allow the early detection of the compromised fetus, has instead led to increasing maternal morbidity without decreasing fetal morbidity. The unintended consequences of this technologic advance have led to the creation of a pseudodisease and unwarranted intervention in response to its detection. Is it ethical to introduce a new technology without adequate assessment of its possible consequences? Are we about to repeat this (error resulting from the introduction of EFM?) There is increasing interest in monitoring the function of the newborn brain, to enable the early detection of subclinical seizures. The monitor may also be used for assessing brain function in older children and adults who are comatose or paralyzed and cannot appropriately respond to stimuli. Use of this amplitude-integrated electroencephalography (aEEG) in the newborn for detection of seizures and other brain abnormalities is not dissimilar to the use of electronic fetal heart rate monitoring. Whether seizures or subclinical seizures themselves cause harm to the developing nervous system is unclear. The effectiveness of medications for treatment of seizures in the newborn has not been established. Therefore, the consequences of introducing automated EEG for the detection of subclinical neonatal seizures are likely to be similar to the results of the introduction of EFM: creation of another pseudodisease, followed by unwarranted intervention, and increased legal liability. What are the ethics of continued approval and introduction of unevaluated technology? What is the wisdom of its use? Beware of the unintended consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-554
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics of study design
  • aEEG
  • automated EEG
  • fetal heart rate monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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