When I consider the ethical issues confronting our
church and world today, I see that many of them will continue to be issues in
the future. Life style interpretations
concerning homosexuality, single gender parenting, and the blessing of same-sex
marriages will remain ethical issues our churches will have to face. Interpretations about the role of woman,
their rights and their limitations in the world and in churches will persist
especially among many conservative denominations. The issues of freedoms in
In the early 1800’s, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein startled the world with its ethical commentary on the industrial age, Darwinism and the control of human life. Her story of man’s creation of a living being has been called a literary marvel as it artistically presents the horrific results of technology combined with man’s sinful desire to be God. This ethical concern is prevalent today, however, I see it taking on greater proportions in the future as technology continues to change and innovate more rapidly than ever before.
According to the Medical Dictionary Search Engine (http://www.books.md), “Bioethics is the branch of ethics, philosophy and social commentary that discusses the life sciences and their potential impact on our society.” It is this area that I feel will be the greatest impact on society for the next 5-10 years.
The Bio-ethics department at Dalhousie University of Nova Scotia, Canada has divided the bio-ethics area into four categories:
In order to make my contentions more clear, I will discuss many of the specific issues I see under each category.
In the area of theoretical bioethics we find that science is exploring areas of “brain science manipulation.” More than ever before, research is showing how our brains work and CT scans are allowing us to see what stimulate what sections of our brains. While the science may seem insignificant, we are actually finding out how we can better manipulate our brains in order to manipulate decision making and unconscious behavioral reactions to stimuli. This becomes an issue as we use these results to in essence “brain wash” people in to buying products, accept ideologies or respond in a predestined way. Brain science has caused department stores to change their colors because red encourages impulse buying and blue does not, products to include scents because lemon smell makes us receptive to the product and chocolate smell makes us desirous of sex, and styles of music everywhere especially heart-beat music (like brogue) which soothes the mind and makes the person more alert, passively active, comfortably positive and conducive to whatever is being presented. This does not include the significant research on the effects of media messages (including violence, sex and self-concept) and other audio/visual stimuli on the behavioral psyche of young people. The ethics will especially become an issue as we confront the issues of freedom of speech, and protection of human rights. The ethical concern is where do we draw the line and if we do, will the church’s “messages” also be controlled as well.
Under this category we also confront recent discoveries involving artificial intelligence, virtual reality stimulation simulation, and nano-technology. Last week the BBC reported that a monkey brain was used to control a robotic arm. Mandayam Srinivasan a researcher at MIT stated, “It was an amazing sight to see the robot in my lab move, knowing that it was being driven by signals from a monkey brain.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1025471.stm)
Steve Martin was in a 1980’s movie called “The Man with Two Brains” where he kept his lover’s brain alive via computer for replacement into another body. In the next ten years, who is to say that not only could brain transplants be a possibility, but what about the brain of Einstein (supposedly saved after his death) being used to control a computer?
Virtual reality also becomes an issue from the movies. Also in the 1980’s in a movie called “Brainstorm” we see a man who dies of too much sexual activity using extreme virtual reality stimulation simulation. Using science fiction technology, the character in the movie video tapes a sexual activity and then plays it back in a continuous loop. The experience stimulates all senses as the technology allowed for a totally realistic experience – tactile as well as visual. This technology is just now become a reality. This stimulated simulation virtual reality can be used for brain washing youth as the vicarious experience of killing or other activities becomes more realistic than ever. The Columbine boys were desensitized by simply a 2D video game -- what will happen when the experience is indecipherable from reality.
Nano-technology is also taken from the realms of science fiction. While Star Trek used the “nano-cells” as internal body invaders from the semi-alien creatures called the “Borg,” the reality of combining medicine and engineering with physics and chemistry is not too far away. Research in this area suggests that we may see significant strides during the next decade. While scientists suggest that this technology will offer a more productive world, many critics see the “Matrix movie scenario” of a nano-holocaust as machines destroy our planet. (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCContent/news/july03-11.asp)
The next category is clinical ethics and I anticipate significant debate about birth and
DNA manipulation. Just recently the Associated
Press reported that the senate had “voted to ban the practice that critics
call partial birth, sending President Bush a measure that supporters and foes
alike said could alter the future of
This issue still stems from the continuing argument of who has control of life? In the same way, DNA manipulation prior to birth will become significant as science becomes more able to control eye pigment, sex and hair color prior to birth. This does not include the issues of conception as technology finds more and more ways for people to have children without any intercourse. Conception clinics have become serious business throughout the country and as the desire for “immediate” children becomes a greater demand, technology is suggesting artificial sperm cells or eggs may not be too far away either.
and policy bioethics could include areas of “life and death” decisions in the
The last category is cultural bioethics and I suggest that Human Genetic Data Bases will become the greatest ethical concern here. With DNA testing becoming more prevalent in court cases it is no wonder that the medical and scientific communities are creating genetic data bases which include information about even babies being tested. This DNA database is similar in nature to what Hitler had hoped for. He sought out information about the physical and historical information of the German children in hopes of breeding the perfect race. The DNA data base brings to question the privacy of individuals, manipulation for breeding purposes and the disposition of cultures based upon a prevalent disorder or disease. ELSAGen (Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Human Genetic Databases) is a conference sponsored by the European Commission for the purpose of determining the potential damaging issues to society. (http://www.elsagen.net)
While society and the church will face ethical and moral issues for as long as there is sin in the world, the focus of the church still must remain on the mission of Jesus Christ. It is Satan’s desire to manipulate us away from the message of salvation by confusing the world with issues that question the authority of God in the process of life and death. Just as Mary Shelly seemed to imply in her book Frankenstein, maybe the monster is actually in us. From the beginning of man’s fall at creation, we have sought to be like God. Instead of seeking God, our sinful nature encourages us to compromise our salvation for the sake of being God. Bio-ethics totters on that line.