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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 2 A story of two domains

Extract

Contrasting domains As a broad generalization Christian writers tend to be more concerned about the reproductive realm than the neuroscientific one. There may be a simple explanation: it is familiar territory and is relatively easy to under- stand what is involved when embryos are manipulated or artificial processes replace normal reproductive ones. We are dealing with the nature of human life and what makes us what we are. By contrast intrusions into the brain and into mental processes take us into very mysterious and complex intel- lectual territory, the ethical dimensions of which may be far less easy to discern. For many the brain is little more than a black box – indecipher- able and unknowable. The question confronting us is whether either or both represent illicit forays into a realm that may lie outside the bounds of legitimate human activity. I shall argue that, even though the dimensions of the two areas give the appearance of being very dif ferent, the tensions and complexities are remarkably similar. They may even be greater and more immediate in neu- roscience, since numerous means of modifying people’s brains are already with us – they constitute present reality. This is not to deny that at the beginning of life momentous choices may, on occasion, be made between one nascent human life and another. By contrast the neuroscientific realm is more concerned with altering the functioning of an existing human being, or perhaps seeking to extend it in some way. While its dimensions appear to be...

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