Q. Aside from the cancer issue, does the VeriChip implant pose other medical risks?
Yes. Electrical hazards, MRI incompatibility, adverse tissue reaction, and migration of the implanted transponder are just a few of the potential risks associated with the VeriChip implant, according to an October 12, 2004 letter issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).53
MRI incompatibility is one of the more serious issues identified by the FDA. An MRI machine uses powerful magnetic fields coupled with pulsed radio frequency (RF) fields. According to the FDA’s Primer on Medical Device Interactions with Magnetic Resonance Imaging Systems, "electrical currents may be induced in conductive metal implants" that can cause "potentially severe patient burns."54 There is also evidence indicating that a VeriChip device may no longer function after exposure to a high power MRI scan.
Q. What is meant by "migration?" Is that a serious concern?
Migration occurs when a microchip tunnels through the flesh to a different part of the body. Chip migration is an ongoing problem for implanted animals, despite the use of a coating designed to anchor the implant. In 1999, a team of researchers (Jansen et al.) found that about half of the transponders inserted into beagle dogs migrated during a four-month study.55 The British Small Animal Veterinary Association, which registers adverse reactions to microchips in the UK, reports receiving over 180 complaints of such chip migration in pets.56 (Since the registry is voluntary and not all vets participate, it’s likely the true number is much higher.) Unfortunately, there is no similar registry in the United States, so migration incidents are not reported in this country.
Significantly, when chips migrate in laboratory animals, they can induce cancer elsewhere in the body, as researcher Sophie Le Calvez discovered. Although her team originally injected chips into the backs of mice, they later retrieved a sizable number of the devices from cancerous lesions in the animals’ limbs, abdomens, and heads. A full 19.3% of the cancers they found formed around these so-called "migrating chips."57
Q. Have any complaints been filed with the FDA about the VeriChip?
Yes, we are aware of at least one adverse reaction report filed with the FDA in which a patient experienced prolonged pain and discomfort from the microchip. She later had the implant removed and the pain subsided. For reasons of patient confidentiality, her name cannot be revealed in this document.
Individuals who have voluntarily participated in VeriChip-sponsored research or have participated in any chipping program involving the VeriChip Corporation are urged to contact us if they are experiencing any adverse effects.
Q. Is it possible to remove the VeriChip implant? How difficult is the procedure?
VeriChip CEO Scott Silverman has told the press that removing a VeriChip implant is a simple, almost trivial procedure. In a 2006 interview he said:
"Should a person request is [sic] removal the microchip can be removed by a simple out-patient procedure. It could be equated to removing a large splinter or a piece of glass." 58
· Scott Silverman, CEO, VeriChip Corporation
Those who have actually undergone the chip removal procedure say otherwise. Removing an implanted VeriChip device requires painstaking surgery that has been described by patients as difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. One problem is locating the microchip, which typically cannot be felt under the skin. It is also possible that the chip may have migrated to a different location within the arm or other body part where it was implanted.
Once it has been found, the chip cannot simply be slid out of the body like a piece of glass, since the anti-migration sheath on the implant bonds with subcutaneous tissue. That means the flesh must be cut away from the implant in order to remove it.
VeriChip Removal These frames from a French documentary show a VeriChip being surgically removed from the arm of a journalist. Because the anti-migration sheath on the implant bonds with subcutaneous tissue, the flesh must be cut away from the implant in order to remove it.
CNN reporter Robyn Curnow confirms that chip removal is difficult. She was implanted with a VeriChip in a Spanish night club in 2004 and had the device removed later that year. She reports that the the surgery was a challenge for the doctors involved—a far cry from "removing a splinter." Here is her report:
Once back home in London, I begin to feel uncomfortable and unsure about my…[microchip implant]. The Baja [Beach Club] Web site assures that getting rid of the microchip is a simple and harmless procedure, something like removing a splinter. But the two doctors I consult in London’s Harley Street disagree. Getting the microchip [removed] became serious business.
General practitioner Dr. Stuart Sanders referred me to consultant plastic surgeon Lena Andersson as soon as he realized he could not feel the microchip. It was buried so deep inside my upper arm that Andersson sent me off for an X-ray, and even that did not help the doctors.
Although the microchip was visible on the X-ray, it was impossible to pinpoint the exact location in my arm as it was nowhere near the point of insertion.
Finding it involved surgery at the clinic and a severe dose of post-Baja regret. One night out in Barcelona has permanently seared into my upper left arm. While splayed out on an operating table — once again anaesthetized — Andersson removed the chip using a high-tech sensor X-ray and two monitors to guide her to it.59
A French journalist also had a VeriChip implant removed and recorded the surgery on film. A photograph from the procedure appears on the previous page.
We are aware of at least one U.S. patient who had a microchip removed (see "Have any complaints been filed with the FDA about the VeriChip?" above). She reported post-operative pain and significant bruising following the removal surgery. Sources we contacted in connection with that case revealed that several other patients who participated in medical trials of the VeriChip have either undergone surgery to have the implants removed or are awaiting such surgery.
Q. Can a VeriChip implant be disabled?
There is no official procedure for disabling an implanted microchip. Because the device has no power source or moving parts to wear out, in theory it could transmit indefinitely.
If a microchip implant is subjected to a strong electromagnetic current it may cease to function. According to field tests, a VeriChip that has gone through a high power MRI scan, for example, may no longer respond to a reader. However, EMF exposure is not a recommended method for disabling an implanted chip, since it could cause the device to heat up in the body and potentially cause internal burns.
Q. Has anyone’s chip fallen out ?
Yes. Atlanta firefighter John Centola had a chip inserted in his arm at a conference in 2007 that later re-emerged while he was swimming. He discussed this event on camera with Atlanta CBS 46 television, 60 and in a one-hour radio interview with the author of this FAQ. 61
Chips emerging or being "lost" was a concern raised in several of the animal studies. Rao and Edmondson reported that two of the 140 microchips they implanted in mice later emerged from the animals’ bodies. One of the microchips, lodged in the subcutaneous tissue over the animal’s lumbar vertebrae, was pushed out slowly through the scar tissue of the injection site during the tenth month after implantation.62
In the Tillmann study, 1.5% of 4,279 (approximately 64) implanted microchips had to be substituted with new transponders when they either ceased functioning or emerged from the animals’ bodies and were later found in the softwood of their cages. Most of the chips emerged within the first two days after implantation, but some losses occurred as late as seven months later.
Researcher Keith Johnson also reported that loss was an issue with the implants, stating: "We had a few early in the studies that would migrate out if the wound wasn’t healing properly."63
Q. Would VeriChip information be available in a natural disaster?
It may be unwise to rely on a VeriChip implant for critical medical information during or immediately after a natural disaster—or at any other time when the Internet is sluggish or inaccessible. The VeriChip implant contains no medical information about a patient, only a 16-digit ID number. In order to access a patient’s records, a medical technician must log onto the Internet to access a remote database. If the Internet is inaccessible, the medical information will not be available. After a disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, or terrorist incident, the Internet may be disrupted. Ironically, that is the very time when emergency medical records would most be needed.
The VeriChip Corporation has acknowledged this potential problem, noting that the company could be sued if patients cannot access medical data when needed. On page 23 of VeriChip’s SEC registration statement, the company writes: "the database may not function properly if certain necessary third-party systems fail, or if some other unforeseen act or natural disaster should occur." They add that "in the past, we have experienced short periods during which the database was inaccessible." 64
Q. Would the VeriChip database be available at other times when I need it?
Maybe not, according to VeriChip. The company detailed the risk that a disruption in the network could cause the medical database to be inaccessible:
Interruptions in access to, or the hacking into, our VeriMed patient information database may have a negative impact on our revenue, damage our reputation and expose us to litigation.
Reliable access to the VeriMed patient information database is a key component of the functionality of our VeriMed system. Our ability to provide uninterrupted access to the database, whether operated by us or one or more third parties with whom we contract, will depend on the efficient and uninterrupted operation of the computer and communications systems involved. Although certain elements of technological, power, communications, personnel and site redundancy are maintained, the database may not be fully redundant. Further, the database may not function properly if certain necessary third-party systems fail, or if some other unforeseen act or natural disaster should occur. In the past, we have experienced short periods during which the database was inaccessible as a result of development work, system maintenance and power outages. Any disruption of the database services, computer systems or communications networks, or those of third parties that we rely on, could result in the inability of users to access the database for an indeterminate period of time. This, in turn, could cause us to lose the confidence of the healthcare community and persons who have undergone the microchip implant procedure, resulting in a loss of revenue and possible litigation.
In addition, if the firewall software protecting the information contained in our database fails or someone is successful in hacking into the database, we could face damage to our business reputation and litigation."65
- VeriChip Corporation
This is just one risk factor identified by the VeriChip Corporation. In 2007, the company laid out nearly 20 pages of risk factors in its Form S-1 Registration Statement, a document it was required by law to file in conjunction with its public issuance of stock.66
Q. Will emergency personnel be able to read my VeriChip in an ambulance?
Not necessarily, according to VeriChip’s own "chipping kit" literature. Apparently ambient radio waves like those in ambulances can interfere with the equipment that reads the implanted tags. Here’s the company’s exact quote:
Areas with ambient radio frequency (RF) emissions, such as mobile transit (ambulances or helicopters), MRI or security scanning equipment could interfere with the ability to read the ID number using a hand held scanner (VeriChip Pocket Reader ®). In such situations the patient and reader should either move away from the area with the high RF activity or, if possible, move or turn off the other RF equipment, and try reading the ID number again.67
- VeriChip’s chipping kit literature
Although turning off radio communication equipment might allow medical professionals to read the VeriChip implant, it would clearly be dangerous to disable crucial communications systems during a medical emergency. It would seem even more impractical to remove a patient from an ambulance or a helicopter simply to read an implanted microchip.
Q. Could the VeriChip implant break or fail to operate?
Yes. "Failure of the implanted transponder" was one of the risks the FDA identified with regard to the VeriChip. If a patient were to rely on the chip to transmit critical medical information in an emergency, failure of the device could result in serious complications or even death.
Implant failure was an issue raised in the animal studies as well. Rao and Edmondson reported that four of the 140 implants used in their study failed due to microscopic cracks in the weld connecting the antenna leads to the microchips, or leakage of the glass capsules, resulting in fluid accumulation around the microchips. 68 That works out to a failure rate of almost 3%.
Q. What is my legal recourse if I am harmed by the VeriChip?
Unfortunately, you may not have any legal recourse if you are harmed by the VeriChip. Before receiving a microchip, implant recipients are required to sign an agreement that excuses VeriChip from all legal responsibility in the event of injury or harm. In fact, the document states that the VeriChip has no "warranties of merchantability and fitness" for any purpose, and it expressly excuses the company from being sued—even in the event of negligence or breach of contract on the company’s part. The VeriChip patient release form reads as follows:
Patient…is fully aware of any risks, complications, risks of loss, damage of any nature, and injury that may be associated with this registration. Patient waives all claims and releases any liability arising from this registration and acknowledges that no warranties of any kind have been made or will be made with respect to this registration. ALL WARRANTIES, WHETHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, HOWEVER ARISING, WHETHER BY OPERATION OF LAW OR OTHERWISE, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MECHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE EXCLUDED AND WAIVED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COMPANY BE LIABLE TO PATIENT FOR ANY INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING LOST INCOME OR SAVINGS) ARISING FROM ANY CAUSE WHATSOEVER, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THEIR POSSIBILITY, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DAMAGES ARE SOUGHT BASED ON BREACH OF CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE, OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY. [Emphasis in the original.]
The legal language used in this agreement is extraordinary. People like firefighter John Centola report that they were not informed of any risks, complications, risks of loss, damage, or potential injury when they received the implant. Mr. Centola was also unaware that he had waived his right to a legal remedy in the event he was harmed by the VeriChip.
Q. Given the risks of the VeriChip, is there an alternative way for people to communicate their medical history to emergency medical responders?
Yes, the MedicAlert bracelet has served the medical information needs of the public for over 50 years. It is a non-invasive metal bracelet that allows patients to communicate medical conditions to emergency room and medical personnel in the event of an emergency.
MedicAlert has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to develop a special teal-colored bracelet that specifically addresses the needs of Alzheimer’s patients. The MedicAlert bracelet communicates vital medical information and can be used to identify a patient in a wandering incident. The bracelet is not invasive and eliminates the need to implant anything into the body.
More importantly, because a MedicAlert bracelet does not require access to the Internet, patients with life-threatening conditions are assured that their critical medical information is with them at all times.