Recent news stories have caused me to consider anew the human body and the whole issue of bio-ethics. To the extent that we are able to know, it seems fair to acknowledge man as being God’s greatest creation. Not only is the soul—that invisible man-essence—of extreme import, surely, also of note, is the body that houses that eternal entity.
The human body is an endlessly fascinating repository of secrets. The miracle of the skin, the strength and structure of the bones, the dynamic balance of the muscles . . .your physical being is knit according to a pattern of incredible purpose.
Our bodies, these God-given and sacred places, call for respect and honor, for as David said in Psalm 139:14 “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” Consider then, in the light of God’s word, the following stories and articles which in many minds raise bio-ethical issues—certainly some more than others.
(Sacramento, CA-NBC) January 17, 2007 – Wednesday afternoon, the Sacramento sheriff opened a homicide investigation into the death of a woman who overdosed on water after participating in a radio show contest.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jennifer Strange, a Sacramento mother of three, died of water intoxication while trying to win a Nintendo Wii videogame console for her children.
Her husband, William, says, “On Friday she was just herself trying to win something she thought we would all enjoy.” later developments here.
I have included this article, even though it is not actually a concern of bio-ethics. The issue here is: Did Jennifer Strange disrespect her body? Did the producers of the show display a lack of honor for the human body?
or this one:
A team of doctors in New York say they are planning to perform the first womb transplant in the US. The procedure would potentially allow women who have had their wombs damaged or removed to develop a pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby. The plan is to use a uterus from a woman who has died.
or this one where a face has been transplanted.
It was an amazing feat of surgery that gave a face to this young woman who had been mutilated by a savage animal, and I commend this action. What, though, of others who submit to operating rooms in order to have a more beautiful face than the one with which they were born? What of face lifts and nose jobs? I’m not speaking of gross genetic malformations, but of ordinary looking people who desire a more pleasing appearance. Is there anything wrong with that?
or, incredibly, here where a serious discussion of head transplants is posited: (Scroll up from the comments to read the entire article.)
Hidden deep in a Russian forest, and guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot intruders on sight, the medical research laboratories on the outskirts of Moscow were one of the Soviet Union’s best-kept secrets.
So the carefully-vetted journalists who were allowed past the forbidding perimeter fence on a cold February morning in 1954 were both apprehensive and curious about what lay ahead. Led to a courtyard outside an austere brick building, they waited in the bright winter sunshine to find out why they had been summoned. For a few minutes, only the sound of birdsong and the rustling of leaves filled the air but then a door slowly opened to reveal experimental surgeon Vladimir Demikhov – accompanied by the strangest looking animal they had ever seen.
Mortal Lessons, written by Dr. Richard Selzer is one of my favorite books. Dr. Selzer, a Guggenheim Fellow is an incredible writer. I consider his works to be spectacular, even though our views on religion are diametrically opposed.
From Dr. Selzer: “Probably the biggest, saddest thing about my own life is that I never had faith in God. I envy people who do. Life without faith is rather a hard proposition. On the other hand, I have tried to live as if I did believe there was a God.” more here.
“For me, the body is a sacred space. Now, you will be amused to hear words like piety, sacred and blessed from a person who claims not to believe in God. I am a highly spiritual person, so evidence of the spirit is present in many things – in people and in the body especially. I am always touched by the revelation of the human spirit when I look at the body, a wound or a lesion. I can see the spirit of the person – the aura of the spirit – in the wound.” More here.
The bio-ethical issue that follows gives me opportunity to present additional writing of Dr. Selzer.
“Whither Thou Goest”
from The Doctor Stories
by Richard Selzer
“BRAIN-DEAD,” said the doctor. “There is no chance that he will wake up. Ever. Look here.” And he unrolled a scroll of paper onto her lap. “This is the electroencephalograph. It’s nothing but a flat line. No blips.” Hannah bowed her head over the chart. The doctor cleared his throat, took one of her hands in both of his, and leaned toward her as though about to tell a secret. Hannah submitted to what under any other circumstance she might have considered presumption, submitted because she thought she ought to. It was expected of her. The formality of the occasion and all.
“Hannah, it is three weeks since your husband was shot in the head. The only thing keeping him alive is the respirator.”
Hannah waited for the walls of the solarium to burst.
“I’m asking you to let us put an end to it, unplug the machinery, let him go. There is just no sense in prolonging a misfortune.” Hannah felt that she should say something, not just sit there, but for the life of her she couldn’t think what. The doctor was speaking again.
“But before we do that, we would like your permission to harvest Sam’s organs for transplantation.”
“Harvest?” said Hannah. “Like the gathering in of wheat?”
“Yes,” said the doctor. “That is what we call it when we take the organs. It is for a good cause. That way your husband will live on. He will not really have died . . ..”
“Dead is dead,” said Hannah.
“I know, I know,” said the doctor. And he looked down at his feet for relief. Hannah noticed that he was wearing oxblood wing-tip shoes of a large size. They were the shoes of power.
A week later she received a letter from the doctor.
Dear Mrs. Owen,You will be pleased and comforted to know that because of your generosity and thanks to the miracle of modern science, seven people right here in the state of Texas are living and well with all their faculties restored to them. Your husband’s liver has gone to a lady in Abilene; the right kidney is functioning in Dallas; the left kidney was placed in a teen-aged girl in Galveston; the heart was given to a man just your husband’s age in a little town near Arkansas; the lungs are in Fort Worth; and the corneas were used on two people right here in Houston. . . .more here.
I have raised lots of important issues in this post today, and I want to hear from you. I’d love to know your thoughts on these subjects.