Dr. Bernard Ars M.D., Ph.D., Prof. Dominique Lambert Ph.D. Université de Namur Département Sciences-Philosophies-Sociétés 61 rue de Bruxelles B-5000 Namur (Belgium)
A world invaded by robots
Today, robotics plays a fundamental role in both our individual and collective lives, especially in medicine. Robotization, current or future, is welcomed, perhaps even sought, not only because it has already proved its practical effectiveness, but also because it allows some to dream about surpassing the limitations and weaknesses inherent to the human being. But it is precisely here that the whole issue lies: in the essential difference between a reality at the service of man and a potentially destructive fantasy. The field of medicine is no exception to this technological invasion and the growing attraction for robotics.
A new gene therapy technique that uses high doses of viruses to carry healthy genes to cells recently brought relief to 15 babies suffering from a lethal neuromuscular condition. As the first human trial with high-doses of the AAV9 virus, its success gave a huge boost to the gene-therapy field.
“People are going to look back and see this as a milestone in a new type of medicine that’s going to have broad implications for lots and lots of diseases,” one researcher told Science last year.
However, those hopes were chilled this week when a leading gene-therapy researcher who was involved in the successful trial also published a study in which high-dose AAV9 infusions severely affected animals. Three young rhesus macaque monkeys developed liver failure and three piglets had motor neurone damage. Some of them had to be euthanised. The cause was not immediately apparent.
As the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae draws near, I have thought it useful to draw some reflections on the document. I have a vision of that great text as if resting upon three great pillars.
The first pillar treats human life as a great gift from God. Can anyone create himself (a self-made man?)? Indeed, can anyone maintain himself in being? Or create beauty and life from nothing?
A substantial and non-incidental part of the gift of life is the possibility of procreating, of collaborating in the work of Creation. The physiological bases of human procreation are well known, and an essential part of them are woman’s rhythms of fertility–non-fertility. Those rhythms, which can be perfectly known, form part of women’s health. They are there for some reason. I would say that they form a substantial part of the human being. To alter them is to alter the substance of man. It is to head for post- or trans-humanism. The finite and imperfect human seeking to amend the unfathomable divine Wisdom.
Woman’s ovulation rhythms form part of the divine gift of life and cannot be altered. God has reserved for himself the design of the human being. It is true that we collaborate towards the conservation and development of Creation (¨Look after the garden, and fill the Earth!”). There are many very diverse and interesting things that we humans can do with ourselves, with nature or with society. We dress ourselves, build, develop thought and science to surprising limits, such as interconnectivity, space travel or the knowledge of our genetic language. We can boost our natural gifts to such limits as it is difficult to imagine. We doctors should and must help couples by repairing what is ill in the event of sickness or disorders. However, we CANNOT change human essence. Neither fertility nor children are an illness.
The second pillar rests on the great gift of sexuality by which the spouses help one another, complement each other and grow together (“it is not good for man to be alone”).
The gift of children adds fecundity to the fecundity of a healthy carnal love. And there is indeed a healthy carnal love and a devious one. We all see it in our interior and exterior. It is the fallout of the great fall.
The third pillar seeks to indicate to the human being where the Creator’s criterion heads for and where not.
Married love helps spouses to overcome concupiscence or the shady area of the sexuality of the fallen man. This shady area threatens even governments, influencers and other organisations seeking to twist a nuclear aspect of the created human being.
I sincerely believe, as did Catalan Blessed Dr Pere Tarrés, that each and everyone of us should seek/ask for the gift of purity, which pleases God so much and so much peace offers to the resting human. Without this repairing gift it is impossible to fight against sexual abuse to children, or the trafficking especially in women, or the plague of pornography or the abuse of one human over another in all orders of life. Blessed Paul VI had a clear vision of this and was courageous to the end exposing the divine-natural truth.
On February 11, 1985, Pope St. John Paul II founded the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. Inspired by faith and hope, he intended to offer a response to the challenges arising in the world of health care. In 1994, the first president of the dicastery, the late Fiorenzo Cardinal Angelini, published the Charter for Health Care Workers, translated into nineteen languages. Following upon new advances in the scientific and biomedical field as well as magisterial pronouncements during the pontificates of Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, the dicastery considered it necessary to revise and update this document while keeping its original structure, focused on the calling of health care workers to be ministers of life.
No one wants to go back to the bad old days of medicine. Not only were treatment options limited, crude and often harmful, but doctors often failed to treat their patients as persons, and instead as objects of scientific inquiry and experimentation.
The same is true of the more recent past: think of the cruel medical experiments of Nazi doctors, or, closer to home, to the ghastly Tuskegee Syphilis Trial. ‘First do no harm’ has often been, and continues to be, flouted. Medicine is an ineluctably moral pursuit, for it involves interactions with persons. It needs to be thought of and through as such.
A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you, says His Holiness Pope Francis in this searing TED Talk delivered directly from Vatican City. In a hopeful message to people of all faiths, to those who have power as well as those who don’t, the spiritual leader provides illuminating commentary on the world as we currently find it and calls for equality, solidarity and tenderness to prevail. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic, or a number,” he says. “We all need each other.”