Designing a Mechanical Housing Component for Neonatal Pulse Oximetry; Exploring Purdue Pharma’s Role within the Opioid Crisis Through the Lens of Care Ethic

Chennupati, Jayeesh, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Allen, Timothy, EN-Biomed Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Socio-technical Synthesis: Care within the Opioid Crisis and a Neonatal Pulse Oximeter
My technical work and STS research paper are connected through the application of care ethics to determine optimal actions or engineering design to address vulnerable populations. However, the two works differ in the vulnerabilities of each population and how actors are able to address the vulnerabilities for each population. Within the STS research paper, there is an exploration of how Purdue Pharmaceuticals preyed on doctors and patients, exhibiting a lack of care, that fueled the opioid crisis within the United States continuing to have severe ramifications within the United States. Within the technical work, there is an application of care ethics as design criteria since the technical solution is prompted by a lack of functionality for neonates creating negative clinical outcomes. While my technical work and STS research paper focus on completely two different situations, one where a company did a wrong doing while the other is more focused on creating an engineering solution, both have care ethics incorporated within the design or discussion of the projects.
The industry standard for a pulse oximeter is inadequate for diagnosing infants in lower income countries, which inhibits the correct treatment with oxygen saturation in resource constrained settings. Thus, a new pulse oximeter was created that would more adequately address the unique design constraints that neonates pose. This project was executed by creating a pulse oximeter that could change its ring diameter based on the user’s finger. It was tested by replicating a similar movement neonates had and measuring the rotational and vertical movement of the pulse oximeter. The final interaction had minimal vertical movement but had some rotational movement. Future work would consist of creating fully functional prototypes tested on neonates that would meet FDA standards.
Within the STS research paper, I explored how Purdue Pharma did not act morally within the marketing of OxyContin by downplaying negative consequences and using doctors for its marketing efforts. To support the idea, I used the ethical framework known as care ethics where the main tenant of care as a virtue was explored within the various ways care could have or was not implemented by Purdue Pharma. The goal of the paper was to highlight how Purdue Pharma did not practice care and create a standard for actors to act with care in systems, like healthcare, that might not necessitate care for actors to function. Otherwise, if we continue to fail to consider how actors should care in systems that don’t necessitate care, we create a world where the tragedy of the commons and negative externalities will be more present.
Though the two projects were different in examining a technological product vs examining an actor, the tenants of care are extremely important to consider in both projects. Care is essential within device development to first understand how to care for your patient by being attentive towards issues that they face and then recognizing how to act on that care. By learning how the healthcare system might not always necessitate care and understanding the disastrous consequences of care being sidelined for profits, my motivation has increased to act with care in situations that might not mandate doing so. In conclusion, by both working on my STS research paper and technical project this past year, I have advanced my ability to understand how to create devices that have care principles imbued with them and also act as an actor that displays care for everyone and everything I work with.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Frugal Innovation, Poverty, Vulnerable Populations, Care Ethics

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Timothy Allen

STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli

Technical Team Members: Jayeesh Chennupati, Anirudh Krishan

Issued Date: