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September 4, 1987     The Message
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September 4, 1987

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, September 4, 1987 1 Faith Todav A supplement to Cothol,: newspapers published by NATIONAL CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 1312 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. with grant assistance from The Cathohc Church EXTENSION soc,ty 35 East Wod Dr., Chicago, Illinois 60601 All contents copyright@ 1987 by NC News Service. 29 By Katharine Bird NC News Service A stronomers report detecting evidence of two planets, larger than Jupiter, in orbit around - two stars similar to the sun within 50 light-years of Earth. *Scientists identify a gene in- volved in producing a brain-tissue abnormality characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, a leading cause of death among the elderly. eResearchers report that new cholesterol-lowering drugs and a strict low-fat, low-cholesterol diet give evidence of slowing or rever- sing the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries of the heart. One in four Americans have cholesterol levels putting them at higher risk for developing heart disease. The world today is experiencing an unprecedented explosion of scientific, medical and techno- logical knowledge, as these ex- amples illustrate. This holds out the promise of providing solutions to a vast array of medical prob- lems and scientific issues that have afflicted and puzzled people for centuries. But these same advances pose unique problems. Put simply, in embracing what science teaches or what is technologically or medically possible, there is a risk of pushing full steam ahead without considering the ethical implications or whether a given procedure is good for the person involved. People tend to develop the attitude that if technology can do something, it should. Physician Richard Haas sees this happening in medicine. An anesthesiologist at Sinai-Samaritan Hospital in Milwaukee, he describ- ed the kind of situation commonly encountered today. A 63-year-old man suffered a massive heart attack. In a coma with little blood pressure, he was almost dead. Nonetheless, he was taken into the operating room and hooked up to machines to keep him alive. "The man's heart was shot," Haas said, "but the family insisted that something be done and no measure be left undone. We have the technology so we did it." Haas sat at the patient's side for nine hours, four hours doing nothing but monitoring the pa- tient's vital signs, while people searched the medical community for an artificual heart. But the man died. "Lots of times patients are go- ing to die anyway," Haas added. "You might think it would be bet- ter to let them die but you tend to prolong life" because it can be done. This story only serves to il- lustrate the extent to which peo- ple almost instinctively rely on the fantastic developments today in the' fields of technology and science. DF3D How to connect ethics with scientific and technological ad- vances is a recurring concern of Pope John Paul II. The develop- ment of technology demands "a proportional development of morals and ethics," the pope wrote in his encyclical, "The Redeemer of Man." The pope said that the question to ask is, Does a particular kind of progress or advance make "human life on earth 'more human' in every aspect?" Does it help peo- ple to become "truly better...more mature spiritually, more aware of the dignity" of their humanity, more responsible and more open to others, especially the weak and poor? The pope stressed that today's advances can have far different results than initially intended. Amazing scientific and technological breakthroughs characterize the modern age. It is as though a new crea- tion is emerging before our very eyes. But what is essen- tial, writes Pope John Paul II, is that wisdom and love undergird each breakthrough. Otherwise human advances risk becoming human threats. Each advance must bejudg- ecl by whether it makes people "more aware of the digni- ty" they possess. People today seem "ever to be under threat" from what they produce, from the work of their hands and, even more so, from the work of their intellect. In line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the pope insisted that science and technology always must serve human beings and not vice versa. What is scientifically or technologically possible isn't always best in terms of human need. School counselor Carol Wilken of Charlottesville, Va., tells a story to illustrate how a family strug- gled with the issue of human need vs. what science and technology can do. When he was diagnosed with cancer, an old man, a Lutheran minister active until shortly before his death at 88, consulted with his children and medical personnel about treatment. He decided to accept chemotherapy, but would not accept surgery or radiation. After suffering a stroke and aware that he could lapse into a coma, he reiterated his decision not to be kept alive through ex- traordinary means. He also chose to return to his nursing home rather than die in the hospital amid a battery of machines. Making such decisions was this particular man's way of humaniz- ing his final illness and death, Ms. Wilken said. It made him feel that he was still "master of his fate." (Ms. Bird is associate editor of Faith Today.) !