The idea of producing ‘perfect’ children through genetic modification or being able to demand that an elderly person who is no longer seen as productive in society be helped to die is appalling, says Dr Anna Holmes.
Dr Holmes has worked as a medical doctor in many countries and is now working in hospice care.
‘I have a real concern that the social pressures on people with disabilities will increase and society will become less tolerant of them,’ Dr Holmes told the Palmerston North colloquium.
‘I remember the sadness of the mother of a Down’s syndrome child who told me that people asked her in the street why she did not have ‘it aborted when there were tests to avoid it.’
Likewise, Holmes said she was concerned about the energetic promotion of euthanasia on demand.
‘I suspect it will appeal to governments struggling to balance health budgets.
‘It may also appeal to some family members who wish to be in control, or have had an experience of miserable death in others in their family.
The cost of healthcare of the old and frail, the demented and the severely disabled may be financially crippling in countries where there is little in public healthcare. She also expressed concern that church institutions for the care of the old and disabled were being closed.
‘I do not believe there are any people more vulnerable than the elderly demented, who have no family to advocate for them.
‘It would be good if the church could be proactive in enabling good palliative care and long-term care, and countering misinformation about euthanasia.’
‘Good ethical dialogue is inclusive, identifies sources of power, and the ethical platforms asks the question: what kind of a society do we want?’
‘The difficult questions, in the light of our understanding of Christian ethics, need to be asked for each new development.
‘Dialogue has to be kept going in a way that understands and respects the scientific position while maintaining a search for wisdom.
With each development we should be asking ourselves:
• Does this reverence each person?
• Does it care for the most vulnerable?
• Does it lead to growth and freedom?
• Does it lead to oppression?
• Is it open to political or economic manipulation so that people will be oppressed?
• Does it reveal in a new way the love of God?
No room for rigidity
Holmes said finding the balance of ethical actions in such a complex world was a continuous process of debate and wise seeking of truth in an evolving world.
The conflict between seekers after truth who live in an evolving world and those who believe they possess the truth was unbridgeable, she said.
‘Religious fundamentalism is as destructive of dialogue as scientific fundamentalism.
‘The philosophical concepts that developed in a world that was thought to be static and fixed in its structures cannot hold in a world in the process of becoming.
‘I am really worried by the veneration of scientific knowledge and the downplaying of wisdom as an important human gift.
‘Wisdom is about the understanding of the created world in all its aspects – spiritual, social, psychological and physical. It arises out of life experience and a humble attitude towards God and creation. It respects the reality of mystery at the heart of creation.
‘For some scientists mystery is a challenge to unravel. Some have expressed hopes that the unravelling of the human genome would finally rid the human race of the need for God.’