Courage at Twilight: First-Generation MRI

MRI machines are everywhere today.  Not so in the early 1980s.  Johnson & Johnson, for which Dad worked as international legal counsel, owned the company that developed magnetic resonance imaging.  The technology opened up a new world of medical diagnosis and treatment.  But sale of the technology to other countries was severely restricted by the U.S. government, both to protect American technology from theft and to prevent abusive repurposing of American technology.  A Chinese medical institution approached J&J about purchasing an MRI machine for its hospital, and the question of whether J&J could do it came to Dad.  He consulted with U.S. customs and security officials, who determined the only way to safety (and legally) sell the MRI machine, even for a legitimate medical purpose, was to first dip the machine’s complex circuit boards in clear epoxy, allowing the machine to function but not be reverse engineered.  “Do you still want the machine, even encased in epoxy?” Dad inquired.  “If the machine malfunctions, it cannot be repaired.”  When the Chinese insisted, J&J prepared and delivered the machine, complete with its innards frozen in a block of plastic, with U.S. government approval.  With today’s ubiquitous MRI procedures, such measures may seem clumsy.  But industrial espionage was and remains a major economic and national security threat.  Hopefully that first-generation MRI machine helped the Chinese hospital and its doctors and patients for a good long time.


(Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay.)

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