A robot has performed surgery without human guidance. It was a “delicate and complex” intervention in which two ends of a pig’s intestine were connected (see HERE). Undoubtedly, this fact represents a new step towards fully automated surgery in humans.

The protagonist is STAR, a robot designed by a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University (United States), which had already shown that it was capable of successfully performing gastrointestinal interventions in pigs. However, to access the intestine it had to make a large external incision and still required some human guidance.

Axel Krieger, a professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the paper published in Science Robotics, notes that the robot’s work on gastrointestinal surgeries produced “significantly better results than humans performing the same procedure.” The researchers explain that intestinal anastomosis is a procedure that requires a high level of precision and repetitive motion to connect the two ends of the intestine. Even the slightest tremor in the hand or a poorly placed point can trigger severe complications, which is why specialist surgeons must have high precision and consistency.

Decades ago it seemed like a science-fiction concept to think about the robotic presence in the operating room. However, technological advances have shown us otherwise and robots, whether or not led by an expert surgeon, can achieve unprecedented levels of precision, safety and success.

Bioethical Assessment

Any advance in the efficiency and precision of surgical techniques in this case at the hands of robotic automation should be welcomed and applauded if it contributes to the benefit in the approach to surgery for patients.

The ethical limits that can be established to the installation of robotic techniques or procedures are those related to process safety. In a surgical intervention not all the possible risks are known and therefore the difficulties and needs that may arise during the clinical intervention cannot be predicted one hundred percent.

The human factor is essential when dealing with the unforeseen, complications or unplanned difficulties that can arise in any surgical practice.

The ability of a robot to evaluate and proceed in the face of these unforeseen events and make sometimes dilemmatic decisions in which it is necessary to make an assessment of the risk-benefit balances of the different options, does not seem to be comparable to that of a human.

Therefore, it will be necessary to leave in the hands of robotics those procedures in which there is a reasonable certainty of efficacy without assuming unnecessary risks. In all other cases, human intervention will continue to be essential (see HERE).

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