The President's Council on Bioethics released a groundbreaking report on Oct. 15 on the difficulties that lie ahead in the "golden age" of biotechnology (http://bioethics.gov). "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness" focuses on what's at stake ethically and socially when the uses of biotechnology go beyond therapy to the pursuit of personal enhancement and happiness.
The study noted some disquieting trends: society's increasing desire for human perfectibility - attaining a brighter mood or a keener mind; boosting muscle strength; extending endurance; or engineering a younger, more beautiful body - through technological means. It warned of the "dangers lurking in the drift toward greater medicalization" of our lives, a tendency to see ourselves in only material and mechanistic terms.
In light of this emerging picture of medicalization and the satisfying of human desires through biotechnology, there is a crucial need for greater awareness and deeper reflection, the authors say. They call for rethinking our basic priorities and asking "just what it is that gives life its significance."
We all want to be happy, healthy, and active, of course. We all want our lives to have purpose, meaning, and value. But how do we get there? Is biotechnology the pathway to an improved life, or is there a better path?
As the council's report indicates, there is too much at stake for society simply to plunge ahead with a limited perspective and against the intuitive doubts that many people feel.
If we take the building blocks of life at face value - basing all our assumptions and strategies for the future on what the physical senses and technology report - then the "significance" of life ultimately boils down to some form of matter. Based on the assumption that we are complex neurobiological creatures, biotechnology logically becomes the tool of choice for therapy, enhancement, and everything beyond.
But there is another perspective, one that involves a significant paradigm shift. Some say it's a shift whose time has come.
Over a century ago, the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, was arguing for a higher, more far-reaching vision. "Mortals must look beyond fading, finite forms, if they would gain the true sense of things," she wrote in her signature work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." This "true sense of things" is essentially spiritual, not material and mechanistic.
Her conclusions were not based on impressions from the physical senses, which she found to be one-sided and misleading, but instead grew out of what she had learned from years of research of the Scriptures (especially the teachings of Jesus), from spiritual perception, experience, prayer, and a solid track record of healing.
The evidence of spiritual causation, power, and substance gradually became more real and trustworthy to her than anything the physical senses and conventional thinking had to say about the substantiality or power of matter. Through spiritual means and scientific application of those means - a method she named Christian Science - she was able to heal sickness, eliminate pain, cure addiction, and improve people's lives in many other ways.
This was a paradigm shift of greatest magnitude, and it was under way. As Science and Health notes: "Contentment with the past and the cold conventionality of materialism are crumbling away." In its place was a different basis for improving lives that went beyond therapy and material means to that which is spiritual and scientific, and, most notably, to that which continues to heal minds and bodies.
It's hard to imagine that society would blindly march into an age where biotechnology is the accepted means by which humans cope with every difficulty, discomfort, distress, or desire - where matter is everything and Spirit doesn't have a leg to stand on. We need to grasp the significance of spiritual means for improving human lives.
As the report of the President's Council recommends, we should carefully consider the path we're on and be sure to go forward with our eyes wide open. That's one reason why the pioneering work in spiritual healing that has been done for humanity by Mary Baker Eddy deserves a closer look. •