[FoRK] [james.hughes@trincoll.edu: [wta-talk] More on Catholicism and H+: Our miracles are less impressive apparently]

Eugen Leitl eugen
Sun Aug 21 08:55:11 PDT 2005


----- Forwarded message from "Hughes, James J." <james.hughes at trincoll.edu> -----

From: "Hughes, James J." <james.hughes at trincoll.edu>
Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2005 14:38:57 -0400
To: "World Transhumanist Association Discussion List" <wta-talk at transhumanism.org>
Subject: [wta-talk] More on Catholicism and H+: Our miracles are less
	impressive apparently
Reply-To: World Transhumanist Association Discussion List <wta-talk at transhumanism.org>

By the way, do y'all think we should have a separate list for discussion
of H+ and theology/religion/spirituality? - J.



Is biotechnology truly miraculous?

Biotechnology cannot play God, because it cannot resurrect the dead,
transfigure human beings, or grant eternal life.

By Louise A. Mitchell (August 15, 2005)

Many today claim that biotechnology is working miracles for our health
and well-being -- just think, for example, of organ transplants, cardiac
bypass surgery, and kidney dialysis -- and that future advances in
biotechnology will result in more incredible miracles. But these
miracles are worlds apart from true miracles, such as Jesus' miracles.
It may seem unfair to compare Jesus' miracles with the miracles of
biotechnology because He has an insurmountable advantage: He is divine,
the Son of God. Biotechnological miracles do not even have the same
purpose in mind-they are not accomplished so that we would know that the
physician, scientist, or laboratory are from God. Nor are they done so
that we would believe in the teachings and workings of the physician or

Jesus performed miracles to prove his divinity, for instruction, and for
the salvation of souls. He worked the greatest miracles when He was
weakest (at His birth and death). He healed instantly or by degrees. The
human being is, by nature, a rational, social being composed of body and
soul. Jesus performed miracles that touched all these aspects of the
human being. He healed the body physically and forgave sins. As the
Second Vatican Council stated, "He supported and confirmed his preaching
by miracles to arouse the faith of his hearers and give them assurance,
but not to coerce them" (DH 11). He never healed just the body, since
the end of his miracles was the health of the human soul.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Christ's compassion
toward the sick and His many healings of every kind of infirmity are a
resplendent sign that 'God has visited his people' [Lk 7:16] and that
the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to
heal, but also to forgive sins; He has come to heal the whole man, soul
and body; He is the physician the sick have need of" (CCC 1503).

In addition, the means He used were always proportionate to the end. All
of these characteristics of Jesus' miracles are directed toward life,
toward the perfection of the human being, and ultimately, toward eternal

One major hurdle that much of biotechnology must overcome is its excess
orientation toward overcoming death. As Leon Kass points out, death is
increasingly seen as "premature, a failure of today's medicine that
future research will prevent," rather than a natural, human, biological
process. Anything is permitted if it saves life, cures disease, prevents
death. Research into hormones, stem cells, and genetics are all
proceeding full steam ahead under that assumption; "the cure of disease,
the prevention of death, and the extension of life [are] near-absolute
values," Kass writes, "trumping most, if not all, other moral
objections." Extending life does not make life more valuable or
meaningful; instead it makes death matter more. It then seems vital to
avoid death for as long as possible. On the other hand, death and its
imminence give a value to life that longevity and immortality take from
it. Longevity calls attention to death; mortality accentuates life-what
a paradox! Further, in a profound way, Christianity gives clear meaning
to death and life.

Pope John Paul II assures us that "This natural aversion to death and
this incipient hope of immortality are illumined and brought to
fulfillment by Christian faith, which both promises and offers a share
in the victory of the Risen Christ ... The certainty of future
immortality and hope in the promised resurrection cast new light on the
mystery of suffering and death, and fill the believer with an
extraordinary capacity to trust fully in the plan of God" (EV 67).

In Jesus' miracles, the salvation of the soul is more important than the
healing of the body, and life is found in death. "The graves were
opened," wrote Thomas Aquinas, "to signify that His death gave life to
the dead ... the whole world changed for the better by the virtue of His

An incomplete picture

A second hurdle that biotechnology should overcome is that it only
addresses the physical, not the soul, the social, or the rational
dimensions of the human being. It attempts to address the social
dimension but confines itself to a discussion of who should have the
advantages of biotechnology and how or if to distribute them. It often
does not address whether a technology itself is detrimental to society
and humanity as a whole and (perhaps) should not be pursued at all. For
example, physician-assisted suicide was developed to solve the "problem"
of physical pain and suffering that could not be alleviated by modern
medicine and technology. However, without the suffering and death of
Christ, Christianity would not exist. Without the examples of the
martyrs, the Christian faith would not be as strong or far-reaching as
it is today. The evil of suffering can be turned to good use.

On the whole, physical suffering that cannot be relieved or lessened by
medicine is rare today, and mental suffering, for example, from the loss
of independence and the inability to take care of oneself brought on by
disabilities and advanced age, is increasing. The reason given most
often by those requesting physician-assisted suicide in Oregon is not
physical but mental; not unrelieved bodily pain and suffering (which was
the main argument for enacting the law in the first place), but feelings
of helplessness and dependence on others. The proper response to pain
and suffering, mental or physical, is community care, comfort, and
support. Biotechnological advances allowing the community to better
fulfill their role of assistance, or advances that enable the elderly or
ill to gain or keep a little more independence, are preferable to any
"advances" in the technology of "choosing death." Jesus' miracles
addressed the rational or highest part of the human being, healed the
body and soul, and were examples to the community. Biotechnological
miracles would be more effective and less detrimental if they followed
Jesus' example and addressed the whole human being.

Contradictory aims

A third difficulty to critically examine is the contradictory goals in
many forms of biotechnology. Taking infertility treatment as an example,
the goal is to help the couple have a child, but the end of the in vitro
fertilization (IVF) process is the production of a child. In contrast,
the goal of marital union is unity and procreation, expressed in the
love between spouses as a total gift of self, the fruit of which is a
child. The intimate union of husband and wife has a different end than
the "intimate union" of lab technician, glass dish, and pipette. The
expression of the total gift of self mutates into an expression of the
prowess of technology. According to Donum vitae (1987), the spouses'
"shar[ing] in a special way in [God's] mystery of personal communion and
in His work as Creator and Father" is surrendered to technology in which
the spouses are detached from the process, and their only share in it is
to make a donation of biological material (if that).

In addition, with the increasing knowledge and understanding of genetics
and the human genome, the goal of IVF is changing in the eyes of
biotechnologists from the production of a child to the production of the
best child that technology can produce. Such a genetically engineered
child will be smarter, healthier, and presumably free of genetically
inherited diseases. But, according to Leon Kass, the price to be paid
... will be the transfer of procreation from the home to the laboratory.
Increasing control over the product can only be purchased by the
increasing depersonalization of the entire process and its coincident
transformation into manufacture. Such an arrangement will be profoundly
dehumanizing, no matter how genetically good or healthy the resultant

The end of Jesus' miracles was the salvation of the soul. By having
their sins forgiven and being commissioned to "go and sin no more"(see
Jn. 8:11, 5:14), these people who were healed were given another chance
to live as God willed them to live in a manner suitable to full human
dignity, to live as befits a rational being, composed of body and soul,
made in the image of God. In contrast, the "miracle" of IVF undermines
human dignity.

In the intimate union of conjugal love, the human dignity of the spouses
is fulfilled through the total gift of self, and the human dignity of
the child is realized in procreation through this love and total
self-gift. It is impossible for biotechnology to duplicate this. On the
positive side, when biotechnology facilitates, but does not replace, the
natural process, it upholds the human dignity of both spouses and child
and respects, rather than changes, the end of having a child, for which
procreation is perfectly designed.

The transfiguration of human beings could only take place through the
cross and resurrection of Christ, the God-Man. Because biotechnology
cannot play God, because it cannot resurrect the dead, transfigure human
beings, or grant eternal life, it should avoid those processes that
destroy humans or pervert human nature and, instead, focus on those that
assist and support human nature and human dignity (e.g., adult stem-cell
research, experiments on animals, the alleviation of pain and
suffering). When biotechnology imitates Jesus' miracles by working
within the complete nature of human beings, and with means that are
proportionate to the end, it frees us to pursue the higher end of
eternal life.

A former managing editor at the National Catholic Bioethics Center,
Louise A. Mitchell is a doctoral candidate in moral theology at Ave
Maria University in Naples, Florida.

Adapted from Ethics & Medics, a publication of the National Catholic
Bioethics Center. Used by permission of the author. 

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