MORALS AND BIOETHICS
Bioethics: What is it?
Anyone who wants to keep pace with medical science today must make giant strides not to be left behind. They enter a new world and are inevitably bewildered by the universe of modern medicine. This universe deeply affects morality, responsible conscience and practical ethics.
Thus, Bioethics confronts everyone. At the sight of this word, please do not turn the page too quickly! Do not take this word as a far-fetched notion that concerns nobody but scholars. You would then have closed your eyes to a reality that constantly and inevitably becomes more and more important. You would soon be out of step. Your faith would be lived in a closed world with no reference whatsoever to science. Such a situation would be too bad for both faith and science.
Indeed Bioethics concerns all Christians!
The rapid development of Biology has brought about Bio-medicine, which in turn made a code of Bioethics necessary to guide human conscience while dealing with life through science.
The word "Ethics", of wider meaning than the word "Morals", is more readily accepted than the other in this pluralistic society of ours, where countless moral theories battle among themselves. Bioethics means assuming responsibility for the protection of human life in a world where bio-medical sciences develop at an incredible pace.
Bioethics is a new field, a new science. I was going to say: it is a wider, richer wisdom, enriched by the past, fortified by the present and audaciously open to the future.
To be more specific, Bioethics deals with such issues as prenatal diagnosis, congenital deformity, in vitro fertilization (in a test tube), artificial insemination after the husband's death, surrogate mothers, quality of life, eugenics, abortion, cloning, old age care, palliation in terminal cases, selective care, resuscitation, death abatement, passive or active euthanasia, death criteria, total or partial cerebral death, ordinary or extraordinary means of prolonging life (hard to distinguish), gerontology, geriatrics, etc.
Life goes on and new techniques are continually developed. Take for example the case of reproduction techniques. In the United States and in Canada, there are already several clinics where artificial insemination is performed with the husband's semen or that of an anonymous donor. Thus, the so-called science babies increase in number.
Likewise, prenatal diagnostic methods are being improved. Genetic anomalies that are revealed using these methods often call for radical decisions. Abortion is one of them.
Test-tube fertilization and embryo implanting are successfully performed in different countries.
Ovule and sperm are frozen and preserved and the specter of commercialization already looms ahead.
It is now possible to rearrange the genes in the chromosomes. It is the beginning of genetic engineering. What will come out of all this? What an incredible and awfully dangerous power!
A few years from now, other unheard of problems will come up that will disturb our civilization. But, let us not panic at the thought of these new ways that upset the Western world. Now is not the time to take refuge in the ghetto of our old routine, in a closed world, in a fearful faith.
As Christians, we may not agree with all the choices that will be made, but at least we will know what is going on and, when possible, judiciously influence the process.
In the field of Bioethics, we Christians and Catholics have a contribution to make. We ought to know today's complex issues. No simplistic view or childish attitude, please!
Anybody would ridicule and shrug off a superficial outlook. Yet, as you know, correct answers are rarely black or white, without nuances as fundamentalists would have us believe.
The Bishop of Valleyfield declared: "Today, we can never offer peremptory answers, for they would be premature or unsatisfactory. Let us face modern research in a positive way."
That is so true! However, some values are to be saved, such as the established principles of human reason and faith, together with the official directives the Church has set with regard to specified concrete cases. Some of the values to be reckoned with are, for example, human dignity, respect for life and unwavering opposition to abortion.
He who does not smother his conscience will hear the claims of natural law. Even before the enlightenment of faith, natural law comes as a guiding light to people of good will.
Some old problems take on new dimensions. Unseen new ones loom on the horizon of science.
For example, researchers in Scotland ignited a debate over cloning when they announced, March 1997, that they had cloned a sheep, which they named Dolly. It became possible to clone humans. The scientist who cloned the sheep declared: "Cloning humans would be 'inhuman'".
"At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even put it more rapidly into practice, it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques", Council of Europe Secretary-General Tarchys said, January 12, 1998.
French President Jacques Chirac, at a Conference of Europe's national ethics committees, early in 1998, said: "Nothing will be resolved by banning certain practices in one country if scientists and doctors can simply work on them elsewhere. It is only at the international level that we will be able to prohibit cloning and genetic manipulation that could alter the characteristics of the human race".
There is an urgent need for human-cloning ban at the international level.
In the encyclical Redemptor Hominis, John Paul II wrote: "The technical development and progress of today's civilization, characterized by the mastering of technology, calls for an equal development of moral life and Ethics. Unfortunately, the latter always seems to be left behind" (no. 15).
No doubt, we can do a great deal! But we must first untangle extremely complex facts, find ways to use science in accord with faith and make the best decisions on complicated, often very delicate issues. Some doubt will remain, but at least, prudence will have provided some basic principles on which correct decisions are made.
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