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Non-medical human imaging

Non-medical imaging is the screening of humans for purposes other than medical diagnosis, medical treatment or biomedical research. These procedures are frequently used, but the public may not always be aware that they involve radiation.

Ionizing radiation for diagnostic purposes has been used in medicine since the discovery of Xrays in 1895. In recent years, several countries have introduced the use of ionizing radiation also for non-medical purposes, primarily for security reasons. Examples of such human imaging include imaging the abdomen of suspected drug couriers, screening people for the detection of concealed objects, for instance prior to boarding an aircraft, or the screening of visitors to a prison. This technique is also being used to determine the age of asylum seekers, for insurance and other purposes.

Non-medical human imaging is carried out without any medical benefit to the individual. In some cases, it might be carried out on minors without parental consent and, as in the case of some security screening, even without the individuals being aware they are being exposed to radiation. An example could be an inadvertent exposure of persons inside vehicles or cargo that are being screened by security or custom authorities for anti-smuggling purposes. When it comes to radiation protection, the exposed persons are neither workers nor patients, and therefore should be regarded as members of the public.

The national regulatory body is responsible for identifying those non-medical imaging procedures that are being carried out in the country. Particular care is necessary because these procedures need to be justified by the government or regulatory body so as to ensure that they are carried out by professionally trained staff or in appropriate facilities. Decisions on justification need to take into account ethical considerations, as well as radiation safety.

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