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The Peril and Promise of Medical Technology

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D. Gareth Jones

Medical technology is one of the most powerful forces in the modern world, with enormous opportunities for good. For many in affluent countries, the expectations of what constitutes the good life have been transformed, as neonatal mortality rates have declined, life expectancy has increased, and one disease after another has been defeated. However, it is not an unalloyed blessing, as social patterns have been transformed, family structures have been challenged, and ordinary people as well as health professionals and scientists confront novel ethical dilemmas.
Gareth Jones writes not only as a scientist and bioethicist but also as a Christian. His aim is to make sense of some of the myriad issues encountered in a world dominated by medical technology. These include manipulation at the earliest stages of embryonic human life, through to ageing and attempts at bringing about physical immortality. The perceived power of genes is critically examined, as are claims that morality can be enhanced using technology. The centrality of the brain for making us what we are is sympathetically examined, against the backdrop of the ongoing debate on dualism and physicalism. Acknowledging our ever-increasing dependence upon medical technology, the author explores ways in which we can live in hope rather than fear.

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Chapter 1 Challenges of modern medicine

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The disconcerting world of modern medicine In an introductory chapter to A Glass Darkly, I set the scene by asking whether medicine is out of control.1 The reason for commencing that book of essays on the relationship between medicine and theology in this particular manner was that the character of medicine appears to be chang- ing. Traditionally medicine has been regarded as a healing profession, in which as far as possible the ill have been restored to good health, and have been cared for and comforted even when cure has proved impossible. There has been a pastoral dimension to medicine that has fitted alongside that provided by other caring professionals. The increasing powers of medicine brought about by increased understanding of the workings of the human body need not upset this equilibrium, since the end result may simply be a welcome increase in the ability to cure a greater range of illnesses. However, has this increase in curative ability actually upset the equilibrium between cure and care? On the surface this need not be the case. Why should greater ef ficiency lead to a diminution in empathy and why should it pose a threat to Christian conceptions of the medical enterprise? If there are threats they arise from changed conceptions of medicine itself and from changes to the goals of medicine. Much is made in some 1 D. Gareth Jones, ‘The Biomedical Technologies: Prospects and Challenges’, in D. Gareth Jones and R. John Elford, eds, A Glass Darkly: Medicine and...

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