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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 7 Ageing and immortal bodies

Extract

The impact of biomedical technology on our bodies takes many forms. Many of these we accept gratefully, such as the inroads of surgery and the medical treatments available for an increasing array of conditions. While all these will not be as successful as we might wish, their goal is the alleviation of sickness and hopefully a return to good health. These are benefits we appreciate, and in the main they raise few major ethical issues or theologi- cal concerns. Unfortunately, these benefits are far from equally distributed throughout the world or even across any one country, and inequality of this order has a plethora of ethical connotations. Similarly, there are also issues at the peripheries, where tensions arise over providing expensive treatments to those in need, or to one group of patients in preference to another group, or to younger patients rather than older ones. These quandaries constitute the bread and butter of serious ethical debate and are discussed routinely in the bioethical literature.1 However, in this chapter they are no more than a footnote to two topics pertinent to the body and the challenges confronting it. The first is the manner in which we approach ageing and whether there is a place within this for some form of biological enhance- ment. The second is the strange world of plastination, where dead bodies are dissected, preserved in plastic and then put on public display to appear as if they were alive, with life-like postures and features. Each of these in...

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