Multiplex: Ethics, Emerging Technologies, Human Future – Possibilities – John Wyatt – Cape Town 2010

Multiplex: Ethics, Emerging Technologies, Human Future – Possibilities – John Wyatt – Cape Town 2010


>>One of the things which hurts those of us
in the medical world sometimes is that it’s very hard to get Christian people, church
leaders and so on to engage with these issues. Sometimes they are too painful, they’re
too difficult, they’re too complicated. It’s much safer to stay with our traditional
approaches, but these are the issues which so many people within our church communities
are struggling with, and they are issues which we have a chance to be, to stand up as a community
that is behaving in a completely different way. And is demonstrating the reality of the
Christian faith in a way which makes a difference. So I’m going to carry on some of the themes
which Peter has raised. And just some brief mentions about some issues of the end of life.
We won’t be able to discuss issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide with any great detail,
but if — we would be happy to discuss those in the questions later on. But it’s helpful to see that Christian thinking
about death is always fundamentally ambiguous about human death. On the one hand, human
death is a great enemy. It’s not part of the original plan for human beings. It’s the consequence
of evil and rebellion. And so death is the final enemy. And health care professionals
fight against death with all of their ability, with conviction. We are called to try and
hold back to keep death at bay. But, there are situations where death changes
from being the great enemy. And where it can actually become in a strange way a mercy,
a form of grace. If you remember in the Garden of Eden when the first human beings are driven
out of the Garden of Eden, there’s an angel and a flashing sword that is there to prevent
them from getting back into the Garden of Eden. And the reason is to prevent them from
eating from the tree of the fruit of life and living forever. Because to live forever
in a fallen state is not a blessing, it’s a curse. And so the angel and the sword is
kept there to prevent the fallen human beings living forever. Part of God’s grace. So death can become a severe mercy. It can
become a healing. It can become a gateway to a new kind of reality. And, therefore,
the challenge which faces Christian health professionals is to try to fight against death
while trying to recognize the point at which death changes from an enemy to being a severe
mercy. And at that point the right thing to do is to stop the fight, to allow death to
occur, and to allow the ultimate healing to occur beyond, through the gateway of death
to a new reality. And it’s thinking like this is why Christian people were the ones who
invented palliative care as a way to helping people to die well. So, our calling is not to introduce death
into a situation. We don’t have that right, so euthanasia and assisted suicide is to introduce
death into a situation where it isn’t. But there are, it is right sometimes for us to
allow death that is already there to take our hands away, to allow death to occur. And
so good medicine must know its limits. It must know when to say enough is enough. When
death changes from an enemy to be resisted, into a gateway to a new existence, a strange
form of healing. And that’s something that we need to discuss
and learn together, and to teach one another – the point at which we say enough is enough.
Sometimes Christian people feel that they must fight against death and use all the technology
in a way which is unhelpful, and sometimes it is right to say enough is enough. And allow
death to occur because we have a hope which goes beyond the grave. The great preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones, was
being kept alive at the end of his life by medical technology. And he is said to have
complained to his doctors caring for him, he said, ‘You are keeping me from the glory.’
And so there is a time to say enough is enough. And our calling is to be with those who are
suffering. I love this anonymous quotation,: “Suffering is not a question which demands
an answer. It’s not a problem which demands a solution. It’s a mystery which demands a
presence.” The calling which God has given us is to be a presence to people who are suffering.
It is to be God’s love mediated in physical form with those who are suffering. The challenges which are facing us are extraordinary
because of the new science. Now, this is the science which is coming in the future. But
as we look into the future it seems inevitable that this new science is going to transform
and change the nature of humanity. So there is science working on genetics, on the understanding
of the human D.N.A. code. A huge amount of effort is now available, has been performed
to analyze human D.N.A., and in future it would be possible for the entire genetic code
to be obtained from a baby before birth, to allow parents to make decisions about whether
or not to have an abortion, and to be obtained at all stages through life. There is new forms of technology which is
changing, making artificial kinds of body parts, and restoring where the body has become
worn out. There is synthetic biology, where human beings are able now to create living
cells, and in the future it’s thought that this kind of synthetic biology will be used
for manufacturing, so rather than have machines which are doing our manufacturing, it’s
much more powerful to have living cells designed and created by human beings which will then
be making the manufacturing processes. There is new understandings of neuroscience,
of looking into the brain. New kinds of medicines, pharmacology, which will not just used for
treating disease but used for giving us greater intellectual ability, used for suppressing
memories, bad memories, used for changing our emotions, used for increasing our ability
to stay awake, all these are — sounds like some of you need it at the moment. So there’s new forms of nanotechnology,
which is using the incredibly small, and new kinds of robotics where all of these technologies
are converging together and they are driven by the power of the digital revolution. And
because digital power increases exponentially every two years, the power doubles. It means,
therefore, that the power of this technology is almost without limit. The Economist magazine had a section on this,
they called it “Biology 2.0.” This is a completely new kind of biology. They said
it will lead to better medical diagnosis and treatment, it will explain the history of
life, that it will reveal in pitiless detail exactly what it is to be human. Do you notice
that? We want to, modern human beings want to understand what it means to be human. And
they hope that the technology, the science will reveal exactly what it is to be human. So, one way in which human beings are trying
to understand this is to compare their D.N.A. with a chimpanzee D.N.A. People are matching
by single base by base, because if we can understand the difference between a chimpanzee
and then a human being then we will really understand what it means to be human. The Economist magazine said, ‘There will
be mistakes on the way and suffering too, but technology once invented cannot be unlearned.
We are as gods, and might as well get good at it.’ Now if that doesn’t frighten you,
I don’t know what does. But you can see here the hubris, the we have become the gods, and
so we might as well get good at it. I think one of the both very interesting and
powerful but quite threatening areas is the area of neuroscience, because sophisticated
brain scans are being performed to look at every aspect of mental functioning. And that
includes religious belief. So, brain scans are being performed of people while they are
praying. They are looking to see what happens in our brains, how are the brains of religious
people different from nonreligious people. And, of course, there are, is the belief that
religion is the greatest threat to modern civilization. There are many people who now
believe like the old enlightenment view, it is religion that will destroy us, and so we
have to understand where these crazy religious beliefs come from. We have to understand the
brain mechanisms, and then we are going to use this understanding in order to try to
prevent religion from becoming the threat. So you can see a potential risks and damages
in this area. And that’s why we need people. I don’t have any easy answers in this area,
but I think we can see that we need people to engage with these issues in order to develop
Christian responses. This is an American company called ‘No Lie
MRI.’ And the idea is you can stick somebody in the magnetic scanner and you can test whether
they are telling the truth or not by seeing the responses in the brain scans. And it’s
being suggested that brain scans will be used for employment testing to see whether people
are suitable for different kinds of employment. They are going to be used in law courts, and
they are going to be used in scientific research and so on. Behind all this is the idea that human beings
are just determined, we are play things of other forces and historically there has always
been the attempt to believe that human beings are just determine. So astrology, political
determinism, psychological determinism, which is Freud, social determinism, economic determinism,
these – then the new versions of determinism are genetic determinism and neurological determinism. But it seems to me that biblical Christianity
stands out against all of these and says no, we are not just the play things. We are not
just puppets determined by other forces. God has given us the freedom to be independent
choosing agents and we are accountable for the choices that we make. So yes, we are influenced
by many things because of our humanity, because of the way we are created, but ultimately
we have the freedom to choose and we will be held accountable for the choices we make. But the idea that if human beings are merely
machines then we can exploit them for our own purposes and so some human beings become
the raw material on which other human beings can operate. Do you know where the greatest
research into human enhancement is going on? Well, it’s the U.S. military which is investing
millions of dollars in trying to find ways of machine brain interfaces, so the fighter
pilot can control the plane or the gun without actually using arms at all, simply by thinking.
By developing new ways, if soldiers can be made smarter then they can be more effective
in warfare. So again, you see the potential for this kind of technology. And the philosophy of transhumanism says human
nature is just work in progress. A half-baked beginning that can be remolded in desirable
ways through the intelligent use of enhancement technologies. So again, just some Christian responses. In
biblical thinking, biblical ethics the way we treat one another comes from biblical anthropology,
the way we are made. And therefore, we need to develop a more profound understanding,
a biblical and theological understanding of our creation, of what it means to be an embodied
human being made in God’s image. And what the Genesis narrative teaches us
is that human beings are not self-explanatory. We derive our meaning from outside ourselves,
because God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness,’ human beings
are God-like beings and therefore our meaning comes from our God-likeness. Each human life
is not only a gift from God, it is a reflection of his being, of his character. And so you
will never understand what it means to be a human being unless you understand that. But then most amazingly and wonderfully, when
God breaks into human history, he doesn’t come in some totally new kind of being, ‘Humanity
2.0.’ No, he comes as an original model human being. He makes himself utterly and
totally defenseless and vulnerable and dependent and he goes through the narrative of a human
life and then ultimately in the physical resurrection of Jesus as he is raised, as Jesus, the new
Adam, as he’s raised as a physical, tangible recognizable human being we see God’s final
and eternal vote of confidence in the original human model. In other words, we don’t need to have a new
enhanced kind of humanity, because in the person of Jesus, this kind of humanity, this
kind of flesh is, is not abandoned, despised or marginalized. It is affirmed and fulfilled.
And that is, I think, the unique message which we have as Christians have to say when confronted
by the challenges of the technology. If original model humanity was good enough
for Jesus, then perhaps it’s good enough for us, too. That we don’t need to have this desperate
desire to have a better kind of humanity. We accept the way that we’ve been made because
that’s the one that God has chosen to vindicate and fulfill in the person of Jesus Christ. So what are some practical responses? Well,
you know, whenever we say that something is wrong, we must immediately say ‘and here
is a better way.’ It’s not good enough just to say it’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
We must say ‘here is a better way.’ So, there have been some wonderful Christian
initiatives in a number of countries around the world. But in the area of the beginning
of life, it’s particularly the Christian crisis pregnancy center. It’s been a wonderful
move of God in a number of countries that are providing compassionate and practical
support for couples facing a crisis, unwanted pregnancy. They’re also providing counseling
for men and women who suffer from post-abortion distress. Many men are affected by these issues,
not just women. They’re providing sex and relationship education for school children. And then at the end of life, it’s Christians
who have been at the forefront of the development and provision of skills palliative care for
the terminally ill and who have opposed the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
So here are some practical responses in which Christian people have made a difference. So now, time for some small group questions
and then we are going to have a chance for some question and answer session as a group
as a whole. But the questions which I would like you then to turn again into your groups
is to say what practical steps in my context can the Christian community take to defend
and protect the most vulnerable human lives? And how can emerging technologies with their
extraordinary power be used not to manipulate, distort and destroy, but to preserve and better
fulfill our humanness in line with God’s purposes for humankind?

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