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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 5 Modifying brains and changing who we are

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Brains and persons: from dualism to physicalism My training is in neuroscience and hence it is not surprising that I am wedded to the centrality of the brain for so much of that which makes us human. This immediately sets me on a collision course with some Christian commentators whose starting point is provided by supposedly traditional Christian anthropology with its duality of body and soul, or even the three-part division of body, soul and spirit.1 I do not see it as my task to argue against the validity or otherwise of such positions on the basis of the theological literature. Rather I wish to explore where a serious engagement with neuroscientific investigations will lead within a Christian framework. This is far from a new endeavour although its character has changed with the changing face of neuroscience. Underlying this endeavour is a presumption that science is to be taken seriously, and that an understanding of brain function should inform any approach to the human person. This includes the approach of Christians. Once again, there should be no great surprise here, since people in general work on the premise that an understanding of the gastrointestinal tract, the liver or the kidneys is central to an appreciation of numerous aspects of health and disease. Mental health and incapacity is not any dif ferent, as was amply demonstrated in chapter 2. 1 J. W. Cooper, Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism- Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989); J...

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