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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Positively Negative Response

Nabilah Deen

Milo recently got hired to work in the technical research department of TechCureCase, a bioengineering firm that develops new medical devices for more accurate diagnostic testing of prostate cancer. Milo performs numerous tests to determine the success rate of a new medical device the company is testing. While nearly 98% of the known samples have produced correct results, a few samples have proven to have incongruous results.

During this longitudinal study, results from one of the negative control samples surprises Milo as it changes from being consistently negative to being consistently positive for early stage prostate cancer. As no device has perfect sensitivity and specificity, he initially believes the change is due to is a false positive result or mislabeling during processing, and therefore dismisses it. However, the next sample from the same negative control patient again produces the same positive result. Milo becomes certain there is either a technical issue going on with the test, or the patient has actually developed prostate cancer. When Milo talks about the issue with his boss, Milo’s boss tells him to put the issue aside and focus on the rest of his work.

What should Milo do?

Nabilah Deen was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015