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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 3 Artificial reproductive technologies and pre-birth dilemmas

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Delight and disquiet Reproductive issues bring us face to face with quite profound theological questions, as profound as anything encountered in more general biological realms, or in any of the physical sciences. The reason is that the reproduc- tive technologies confront us in very practical terms with the relationship between human and divine control, between that which should or should not be subject to the interference of human beings, and what should or should not be left to the whims of fate/chance or the dictates of God. In other words, they raise the question of where God enters the picture, if indeed there is any place for God or any god. It is dif ficult to overestimate the seismic ef fects that IVF (in vitro fer- tilization) has had on all modern societies. Its use in bypassing infertility has been overshadowed by the many other uses to which it can be put in transforming the reproductive process, and in contributing to medical pro- gress. These and other consequences of IVF stem from the ability to inves- tigate and manipulate human embryos in the laboratory. Consequently, the human embryo has lost its mysterious and unfathomable quality, and this is the root of the disquiet expressed by many when confronted by techniques for controlling embryonic development. Sir Robert Edwards, the Cambridge physiologist whose ground break- ing work in the 1960s and 1970s led to this revolution, had to wait until 2010 to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. However,...

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