Technology’s Unfulfilled Promises, Pt 2

Yesterday I explored how technology continually leaves us wanting as it offers a promise it cannot fulfill, an unqualifiedly better life. The problem with the technology wasn’t the technology per se, but the depravity of the people driving and using the technology. But there remains a more sinister side to technological advance, a side where technology raises moral and ethical issues.

Humanity continues to push the bounds of possibility when it comes to technology, and in particular areas, this raises the question of whether certain technologies are ethical. What are the ethical boundaries that scientists cannot cross with technology to attain their desired results? Nowhere is this issue more glaringly evident than in the arena of advanced reproductive technologies.

Just a matter of months ago, the Associate Press reported that a child had been born with the DNA of three parents. A mother, father and the mitochondrial DNA of an egg donor. The scientific community heralded this as big news, and indeed it is. However, astute readers will note that the story originates from Mexico. Why Mexico? The Us outlaws the procedure. Therefore, Zhang headed south of the border. As he told the New Scientists, in Mexico “there are no rules.”

Zhang argued that “To save lives is the ethical thing to do.” Certainly, this is true, but is it the only moral question to be considered? In reality, no life was at stake until this group embarked on the task of creating new life. The procedure uses some of the same technology found in cloning, something universally recognized as unethical. While the medical community condemns cloning on ethical grounds, advances like the one made by Dr. Zhang highlight the promises revolutionaries make that ultimately go unfulfilled.

When someone sticks their toe across the line and makes the claim that the line is arbitrary (or goes to Mexico to perform a questionable procedure), there is nothing to stop them from obliterating every ethical line that follows. An arbitrary line can always be moved in the name of advancement. If scientific progress is the highest good, then it cannot be constrained by ethical bounds. One doctor may do questionable procedure X and in so doing opens up ethically questionable possibility Y. While he may not cross that line himself, there is always someone willing to take his work and push the envelope even further. If there are no ethical absolutes, technology will degenerate to fit our depraved inclinations, disregarding the high costs to humanity.

Some may call this a slippery slope argument, but we see it happen time and time again. In reality, it’s just following the logic. The progress may come quickly or may grind on for decades, but when a line stands in the way of achievement you alway find someone who is willing to cross the line. If we do not ground scientific and technological advance within an ethical framework, then any assurances that they will slip into unethical practices will quickly ring hollow. Proponents of advancement will leave a path of broken promises in their wake. Crossed lines in the sand are the inescapable outcome when one’s greatest aspiration is progress.

Christians must stand against the push for technology removed from a moral framework. We must recognize the damaging effects that such advance will ultimately have on human dignity. Dr. Zhang took a giant step in medical progress but has opened pandora’s box of issues surrounding human dignity. If we do not take care to establish clear moral boundaries, it may cost us our very souls as we see each subsequent generation embrace increasingly immoral technologies in the name of progress.

 

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