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Science & Technology: inherently good or bad?

May 25, 2009

As in anything, the design of technology to facilitate scientific progress can be utilized in a positive or negative way. To some degree, the choice of whether a manifestation is positive or negative can be highly subjective and vary a great deal from individual to individual as well as from society to society. Cultural norms, laws and other regulatory milieu contribute greatly to the viewpoints of those at the helm of legislation and regulatory bodies, along with the influences of religion. My personal viewpoints happen to follow my religious view and regardless of what laws proscribe (or do not prohibit) my personal choices about what is right or wrong may or may not agree with popular opinion. I have made a point to teach my children that regardless of what they might hear advocated from teachers’ viewpoints or peers’ opinions in the school environment, that “X” is what we believe in our household, followed by an explanation of what shapes those beliefs.

It is very easy in today’s society to fall prey to popular opinion and popular culture and say “well, if it doesn’t affect me then it’s fine”. In some cases being nonjudgmental is a good thing; however in others not standing by one’s beliefs is a sign of weakness and lack of character. There is an enormous difference, in my humble opinion, in judging others (not right in my book) and espousing and being comfortable in representing their respective viewpoints without fear of being attacked or chastised. I have felt in recent years that people do not want to really hear an opinion that diverges from theirs, they just want to argue. This is not discourse but rather pugilism and bias that is oddly “OK” in certain settings based upon what is a popular opinion at the time. Therefore it has become my policy to not discuss politics or religion among peers or colleagues, unless pushed. Once pushed, I always stipulate “OK, you’ve asked my opinion now are you sure you want to hear it?” What I mean by this is, if you ask be prepared to listen and not attack me for believing something different. If you want to calmly and intellectually discuss, fine. If you want to argue, forget it.

This leads me to the issue of bioethics. I took my first bioethics course in high school and it was really complicated and heavy. However, it was likely one of the best courses I have ever taken in my whole academic career. I still use those tools today to sort out what I feel is right and wrong. Issues such as “designer babies” (Steinbock, 2008) bring about questions of manipulating genetic configurations for the sake of producing the “perfect” baby. This diverges from my ethics in a number of ways, but when medical professionals are faced with the same decisions, there is a lot of gray area with regard to whether or not such things should occur.

The recent story about the single mother who already had 6 children going to a fertility specialist and subsequently giving birth to 8 babies has been a prolific topic of discussion in news stories and no doubt in casual conversations everywhere. While this is an outrageous situation and many people seem to feel such a procedure shouldn’t have happened perhaps due to her ability to care for the children on a number of levels, it highlights the need for an outrageous scenario to bring our attention to the root issues of ethics in medicine. The question in this case is obviously “was the doctor negligent in doing the implantations given a number of circumstances in this case?” Clearly it will be a topic of debate for awhile and over time, a majority opinion will arise. However, on a personal level I formed my opinion weeks ago.

I recently heard the question of whether or not medical professionals are overly reliant upon technology. I thought it was an interesting question from the perspective of “can they be too reliant upon tools that help them more effectively and efficiently perform their work?” I don’t believe this is the case. An important part of one’s medical training is to understand the ability to misuse technology and guard against it. One scenario could be the use of life-sustaining technology such as ventilators to keep a person breathing despite long-standing and clear brain death. Obviously this is not a quick and easy decision in many cases, and there are the outlier cases of people waking up from such states, however over time it becomes clear whether or not a human technological intervention should supersede that which the Divine intended. These are very, very personal decisions and having been faced with making those decisions on behalf of a family member I can say that signing a “do not resuscitate” order was one of the most gut-wrenching things I ever had to do; but in this case it was the right thing to do – all things considered.

Summarily, science and technology and their tools and byproducts are only as good (or as bad) as their applications. This is to say that their inanimate and value-neutral states change upon application which involves human determination. Humans control how science and technology are used and we only have to look to many human-perpetrated tragedies to see them used for evil rather than good (think Nazi Germany and human Josef Mengele). Rhetorically then, we could look at current applications of science and technology and wonder how history will remember the “values” we currently ascribe to value-neutral science and technology. We already know hindsight is 20/20…

Steinbock, B. (2008). The art of medicine: Designer babies: choosing our children’s genes. The Lancet, 372(9646), 1294-5. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1590786311).

One Comment leave one →
  1. nikolaykotev permalink
    May 25, 2009 10:37 am

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    Nikolay Kotev

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