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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 8 Increasing dependence upon technology

Extract

In the preceding chapters I have scoped a diverse array of issues, from the artificial reproductive technologies to neuroscience, from genetics to the technological enhancement of morality, and from ways of transforming ageing to the strange procedure of plastination of the human body. In each case, issues have arisen on account of the character of the technological intrusion into these processes. Some of them have been present reality; others have postulated ways in which the technology may be applied in the future. While there are notable dif ferences between these groups, the dividing line between reality and speculation may be of lesser rather than greater importance. This is because all exemplify the extent to which increas- ing numbers of people are looking to technology to solve problems and even provide meaning for human existence by expanding the dimensions of human experience. In this chapter I continue with this theme, and again aim to encompass the not so spectacular along with what some consider as the outlandish. I shall move from regenerative medicine, to cyborgs and on to post-persons, a gradation that for me signifies the transition from the realistic and thera- peutic, to the speculative, although even here there may be therapeutic overtones in some instances. All in their own ways elicit considerable debate within bioethical circles and should not be ignored by theologians. This is not to suggest that they are of equal status or comparable importance, and yet they fit onto a continuum from the ordinary to the...

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