Myrna M Pugh. Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal. Editor: J Harold Ellens. Volume 2: Medical and Therapeutic Events. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.
At what point do we stop expecting modern medicine to do its job and start hoping and praying for a miracle? Is there a beginning or an ending to the question? Is it a valid question to begin with? It would seem that it is valid since it invites us to struggle with the question to form some conclusions. Questions that cause us to struggle and process ideas are helpful and beneficial to us. When we are brought to the place of intellectual and emotional testing and growth, it usually is a good thing. We are then able to come to conclusions that express our own selves. This is part of what we callcritical thinking. This is important to developing our own unique identities.
The question of just when and where we start and stop understanding difficult concepts like medical miracles can stretch us greatly. It is not clear where the beginning or ending of the line between the two lies. Perhaps it is more of a continuum than an actual point. Since we are all on continuums of various sorts, emotionally, mentally, economically, spiritually, and physically, this might be a helpful way of looking at the whole idea. Circumstances will dictate where we put our boat into the stream of decision. It could be that there are no clear-cut indicators or guidelines, and we might need to leap into the unsettled waters of medical miracles during a time of crisis.
Some would point out that it is not possible to separate miracles from technology today, and they could be right. In the last 10 years, the field of medical technology has exploded with new and bold treatments and devices to deal with sickness and disease. One of the most important advances ever made by science has been the development of the Human Genome Project (Drell and Adamson 2000). The Human Genome Project is a by-product of the discovery of the genetics code in the mid-1950s. For the first time, a magic doorway has opened, allowing us to see the basic units from which we are constructed. Science has used the intervening time wisely. In the last 50 years, more has been discovered about how the body works, or does not work, and how to understand the processes of disease, than in the entire previous span of human history.
The Human Genome Project began in 1990, and it has heavily influenced most fields of research and development since then. The importance of this project lies in the fact that the origin of all diseases and disorders is genetic. Genes determine all that we know of who we are as individuals and as a species. The mapping of the human genome has already uncovered many culprits in disease processes. Identification of defective genes is showing how specific diseases or certain conditions come about. Understanding this critical information ought to lead researchers to know how to test for specific genes such as those genetic anomalies that cause Huntington’s disease, a fatal neurological disorder that kills slowly, but in a horrific manner. As a result of this genetic specificity, gene therapy, in the form of stem cell transplantation, may well be the answer to many chronic diseases such as diabetes or scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder of the connecting tissue and skin, with nearly always fatal consequences. Studies are under way to explore treatments for this rare disorder (Sullivan 2006).
Following hard on the heels of the Human Genome Project is the exciting field of organ transplantation. We would normally think of heart or kidney transplants when we consider this field, but it is much larger than that. Today, almost any organ in the human body can be, and has been, transplanted. Today, in some cases, multiple organs can be and now are transplanted, even into children. At the University of Pittsburg, Thomas Starzl has built what is arguably the largest transplant center in the world, the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. The research and development of new procedures and new equipment is astounding. They have even built a children’s hospital that specializes in nothing but transplantation for children (Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh 2007).
Some of the transplantation specialties are heart, lung, intestine, kidney, liver, pancreas, and bone marrow as well as bone, tendon, and cornea. A few of the multiple transplants consist of blood and marrow, heart and lung, or liver and intestine. In addition to human organ transplantation, much advancement has been made in the field of artificial heart devices, which either take over the work of the heart completely, while a human donor’s heart is searched for, or allow the heart to rest, while it heals. Such a device is the Berlin heart, which has been designed to fit inside the smaller-sized bodies of children. This is still an experimental device that, when used in the United States, requires a single-use permit. Developed in Germany, it is expected that this device might become a standard in the future for children who need transplants.
Not only can we transplant human donor hearts as well as artificial hearts to prolong life, but now, through the use of stem cells, we can also transplant cells that will do the work of whatever organ needs them, as in the case of the myocardium. Cellular cardiomyoplasty is the name of the new process, and practitioners have high hope for its success. Clinical trials are promising, but they are also slow (Taylor 2003).
Within the field of organ transplantation, there is new research, not only about how to preserve donor organs for a longer time, but also about how to keep them healthier at the same time. Part of the answer to these questions is a new organ preservation solution that does both. This new solution works for livers, kidneys, and hearts and is less expensive than old solutions (Eghtesad 2003).
Some transplantation challenges of the future include, but are not limited to, zenotransplantation as well as developing an implantable artificial lung (DiSesa et al. 2002). Zenotransplantation refers to the process of implanting certain human genes into a recipient, such as a fetal pig, for example, which would then develop desirable human organs, such as an ear, or traits, such as overcoming rejection when implanted into a human body (White 2003). One of the major challenges in the field of zenotransplantation is taking on the job of trying to develop a transgenic pig that would yield a usable and profitable human lung (Davis et al. 1999). If a transgenic lung or an artificial implantable lung can be developed, it would serve in the same way the artificial heart now operates; that is, it would keep the patient alive long enough to obtain a suitable human lung transplant, according to Bartley P. Griffith (2003) of the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
This technology, advanced as it is, still does not begin to touch the tip of the iceberg of organ transplantation. The statistics are grim. The latest numbers send a poignant message. Today, there are 9,948 people on a transplant waiting list. The total number of transplants done in the United States through April 2007 was 9,217. The donor list through April 2007 was 4,662. The odds are not good that you would receive an organ if you needed one, regardless of where you went for treatment.
At an international symposium on the future of organ replacement, in 2003, Dr. David M. Briscoe put it into perspective. Briscoe stated, concerning the future of organ replacement (Medscape 2003), “Almost every advance in medicine leads to a greater need for organ replacement.” According to Charles G. Orosz of Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus (Medscape 2003), “Transplantation could be considered as an entity that has successfully survived its birth, grown impressively throughout its childhood, and now enters adolescence. It has the potential to be highly productive as an adult.”
Another bright light in the technological heavens is the field of nanotechnology. This emerging field of research has to do with inserting into the body very small machines. It holds a great deal of promise for the future. Nanotechnology is currently being developed in at least 75 different venues around the country. It will have the potential for changing the way medicine accesses hard-to-reach body parts and will have the capability of monitoring various processes, such as blood pressure, when cruising throughout the body. This technology is extremely small and can go through tight places previously inaccessible to larger instruments or medicines.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved nanocapsules for endoscopic purposes. One just swallows a nanocapsule, and it takes a picture of your intestines. It is a great help in clinical diagnostics. One of the uses currently being developed for this technology is as a so-called lab on a stick. One would be able to get multiple results from dipping the nanobiochip in a measure of blood to get instant readings.
When we consider miracles and technology, nowhere has the dual concept merged as in the field of obstetrics, especially the exciting venue of multiple births. Here is where miracles and technology seem to be ideal for each other. Multiple births are not new. In Genesis 3:16 (NKJV), God told Eve, “I will greatly multiply your conception.” According to the biblical record, one of the reasons that Pharaoh was so fearful of the Hebrew people was that they were so prolific (Exodus 1:10; NIV). He actually ordered the death of all male infants at birth because the mothers were having so many babies. He felt these boys would grow up into disgruntled young men, who might someday turn on him in time of war (Exodus 1:10). It is taught in Hebrew lore that each Hebrew woman might have had up to six babies at a time (Exodus Rabbah 2000, 258).
Today, we could call six babies at a time a miracle, and it is. Most multiple births today are the result of great advances in the field of genetics and obstetrics. Called in vitro fertilization, eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory, then implanted in the mother and brought as close to term as possible. This sounds easy, but a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money goes into each pregnancy, and the technology needed to make it happen is amazing. Once the mother is pregnant, the technology kicks into high hear, trying to assess how many babies there are, how many will survive, what kind of defects, if any, they will develop, and how long the doctors can keep the babies inside the mother. Each step is fraught with danger, and the latest technology is necessary to bring these fragile little lives to term. While I was doing one of my clinical internships, I went through a very difficult pregnancy with a young client, who was pregnant with triplets, and I was able to see firsthand the complicated steps it took to deliver the little girls and keep them healthy.
Assuming there are anywhere from three to six babies inside the womb, they usually come anywhere from six months on. Rarely are these tiny babies carried to full term. When they are born, they are immediately transferred to a specialized neonatal intensive care unit and are then hooked up to so many monitors and diagnostic devices that it is sometimes difficult to see where the babies are under all those wires and tubes. They have their eyes taped shut and catheters inserted into lungs, bladders, veins, arteries, and stomachs. They nearly always wear little heart monitors and breathing apparatus. It is not unusual for these tiny infants to weigh in at less than one pound each. Today, it is possible to keep most of these infants alive, then bring them up to birth weight and see those same infants thrive at home. Modern technology has allowed these living miracles to achieve, and even remake, history. In the case of in vitro fertilization, we have placed a high value on life, and nowhere does the concept that life is worth saving come into play as it does at the very beginning.
For all the wonderful advancements in medical technology and knowledge, there is a dark side. Some feel that the advances extract too high a price from the consuming public. Unrealistic expectations are the result of rapid and unremitting wonders. Today, everyone expects, and feels that they deserve, the newest medical marvels and innovations that might either save or prolong their lives, and certainly make it easier to live with their unique medical problems. According to Michael E. Chernow (1998), an economist who specializes in public health at the University of Michigan, new technology is responsible for the continuing rise in health care costs today. He says, “The reason why health care costs are higher now than they have been is because of new medical technology. It’s not increased waste, it’s not fraud, it’s not increased law suits, it’s not the fact that people on average are older, all of that may contribute, but the predominant factor relates to the development and utilization of new medical techniques, of which there are an enormous number” (Chernow 1998, 259-88).
Some physicians advocate controlling new technology as a means of containing health care costs. This includes rationing access to new or high-cost equipment, procedures, or technology. Other options include a nationalized health care system and changing the way medical progress is currently accessed. Some physicians feel that it is morally wrong to raise the hopes and expectations of patients that everything that can be done, actually should be done, to prolong life (Deyo and Patrick 2005). Part of the love affair of this country with the embrace of new technological advances is our great desire for instant gratification. We have bred into every generation since the end of World War II a sense of entitlement: baby boomers, in particular, want everything, and they want it now. Not ones to suffer unnecessarily, they demand the best the world has to offer, and they consume everything they can obtain from the resources they command. They expect the newest, the most complicated, and the most expensive health care in the world, and they are getting it. This preoccupation with beating the odds of dying was reflected in the comments of L. M. Fisher of Human Genome Sciences, when he quipped, “Death is a series of preventable diseases” (2000). However, C. S. Lewis said, “Death is total in every generation” (qtd. in Graham 1975, 71). It is true that we can postpone death, but we cannot hold it at bay indefinitely—at least, not at the present time, using today’s technology. One cannot ignore the greed factor here. There are enormous profits linked to each medical advance. The marketplace of needs and preferences must and will dictate what miraculous innovations will emerge and survive into the future. The most prominent factor, however, driving the quest for more medical technology is the original and eminently worthy American spirit of intriguing inquiry into and the mastery of the unknown.
One might ask where all of this energy and creativity came from. What sets people apart in their ability to dream, create, and bring to fruition ideas and plans? This ability to conceive new ideas and carry them out is a product of humankind being created in the image of God. Theologians call this the imago dei, and it means that we are very much like God. We are not God, but we do possess a number of the characteristics of God. For example, God is inherently a creator, and we are creators as well. We do not create ex nihilo, like God did, but we take what has already been made and use it to make something else. We do this on a grand and nearly miraculous scale.
From pitchforks to space buggies, we dream, conceive, plan, design, and engineer all sorts of items that are beneficial to people. We also design instruments and items that are not beneficial, but actually harmful, to people. Our capabilities move in both directions in this regard. Sometimes our creative ideas go nowhere; at other times they accomplish great things. What does the imago Dei mean to us when we consider medical miracles? Where did this imago Dei come from? What does it consist of, and what purpose does it serve? Genesis 1:26 describes the creation of humankind. God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Genesis 1:27 describes the action taken by God: “So God made man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” Genesis 2:7 reiterates the details of that creation: “The Lord God formed man [out of the dust of the ground [adama] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man] became a living being.” It is clear that we are created in the image of God. This means that God made us with many of the same qualities that reflect who he is.
What are some of those important qualities we possess that are like God? For one thing, we are immortal beings. There are some important parts of us that will never really die, but will endure beyond our own demise. Just as God is a triune being, so, too, we are triune beings. We are composed of a physical part that is carbon based; a soul, made up of the mind, emotions, and the will; and a spiritual part. The physical part is what relates to our earthly life. We are embodied spirits, and the spirit and the soul must have a place to live. We provide a home for the soul and spirit with the body. It is the flesh, the human body, that will die, but the other parts of us will go on living. This is somewhat like God, except he does not need a body, although Jesus had a body like ours when he was here on earth.
We are also like God in other ways. We are created with characteristics such as the ability to love ourselves, others, and God. We care for others, as God cares for us. We are able to respond to the needs of others and forgive them, even when we have been injured or wounded at the hand of others. We desire relationships above all else, and will do anything to have them, even if unhealthy relationships. We think, we make plans and carry them out, we grieve and mourn our losses. We honor our dead and show them respect by burying them. We use the gift of free will to make choices, both good and bad. These aspects of who we are as human beings are also like God.
The fruit of the spirit, described by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, namely, love, joy, patience, kindness, long-suffering, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are all parts of the imago Dei. The spirit mentioned here is the Holy Spirit, who is God present to us in our day. These desirable qualities are some of the ways in which God shows the world who he is through us, although they are not the only ways.
Examining the complex issue of medical miracles and the implications for society, the believing communities, and individuals, we need to look at where miracles and healing come from. We have discussed the emerging role of modern technology and how it relates to our perception of miracles. We now turn our attention to the source of healing itself. Technology cannot, and does not, heal. There are no inherent healing properties within it. Technology merely assists in the healing process, which remains the sole realm of God. Healing takes place in the tissues, cells, and organs of the body. Life is such a nebulous and elusive thing: we cannot see it, feel it, or handle it. Where does life come from? We know where death comes from. Death is the cessation of life. Science has struggled with this concept of the origin of life for generations. Researchers have attempted to create life in the laboratory but have never succeeded Science can only take created elements and recombine them to manipulate them.
For a long time, researchers believed that life came from spontaneous generation. This is “the belief that living things can arise from non-living material” (DeWitt 2002). The scientific concept for this idea was known as abiogenesis and was accepted within the natural sciences, until Louis Pasteur disproved it (Demick 2000). Pasteur and his colleague Rudolf Virchow postulated the idea that life does not come from nonliving matter, but can only come from previous life. They called this concept the law of biogenesis (DeWitt 2002). According to Jason Lisle, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado in Boulder writing on God and Natural Law (2006, 75), “There is one well-known law of life: the law of biogenesis. This law states simply that life always comes from life. This is what observational science tells us: organisms reproduce other organisms after their own kind. Historically, Louis Pasteur disproved one alleged case of spontaneous generation: he showed that life comes from previous life. Since then, we have seen that this law is universal, with no known exceptions.” Virchow, who had held to the idea of abiogenesis for some time, abandoned the concept and joined Pasteur in the laboratory to prove the construct that life comes from life. He coined the phrase omni cellules e cellules (all cells come from other cells; Demick 2000).
How does the idea that life comes only from life affect miracles? The answer lies in the chain of life. Life has to have an origin, or a starting point, and a material and physical receptacle in which to reside. First, there is a source of life power; second, there is the actual life power itself; and third, there is a receptacle for the power of life to reside in. God is the source of that life power, Jesus Christ is the life power, and our bodies are the receptacles for that life power. Our premise is that life can only come from life, never from death or nonexistence. A corpse contains no life within and cannot sustain life. When host cells die due to disease, injury, or adverse conditions, they do not regenerate apart from the genetic code built into them. Miracles override this code and allow the power of life free access to cells, tissues, and organs. Healing at this level is under the direct control of God. When a miracle occurs, power flows from the divine source into the smallest units of life, restoring and energizing them. Damage to, or death of, the cells can be repaired or reversed, and many times, any disease processes that are in place are actually replaced by new and healthy cells. This explains the longevity of medical miracles.
While surgery, machinery, and medicines assist in the healing process, healing is dependent on cells receiving the life power itself from the divine source. This is true regardless of how high tech or low tech the treatments are. There is a connection deep within human beings that eagerly responds to this life source. It is as though something inside recognizes and instinctively answers to this gentle, but powerful, touch. The imago Dei in people responds to another part of itself. As the sunflower follows the rays of the sun for the power to bloom, so we, too, look to the healing life force of God to regenerate damage to our bodies through his healing caress.
The idea that humans carry the essence of God around with us is heart stopping. That part of us that was designed to be directly responsive to God is still present, although it is sometimes difficult to see. We do see it, to some extent, in the area of human creativity. Because we have this flame within, God listens to us and empowers us for living life well. God takes an interest in us and our activities. He is responsive to our needs. We can have a relationship with the God of the universe. God is in the business of redemption, and one of the things he wants to redeem about us is his own image, theimago Dei. It is this image within us that is important to the one who made it and freely gave it to us.
Miracles, whether they are modern medical miracles or any other kind, keep us connected to God. They are a point of contact. The imago Dei allows us to form complicated ideas and understand concepts such as miracles. How does theimago Dei help us form a worldview that includes the miraculous and the unexplained? How do we recognize when medicine reaches the end of itself and a miracle begins?
The characteristics that are reflected in benefits to others, those good qualities that distinguish humans from other created orders, have their roots in the character of God. Our worldview is shaped by what we know and believe about ourselves and others, including God. When we allow those qualities that make us like God to shape our ideas of who we are, we will be more open to ideas such as miracles than if we give God no place in our thoughts and behavior.
The imago Dei has generosity to others at its heart. This is the reason that nearly every advanced social and civil institution has reached its peak since the introduction of Christianity. Benevolence and caregiving are a result of taking Christianity around the world. Hospitals and modern medicine are reflections of those qualities that Christ demonstrated. Healing is second nature to God and to those who believe in God. This plows the ground and renders it fertile so that miracles can flourish. Because God cares for us, he performs miracles on our behalf. Because we love God and others, we, too, perform miracles on their behalf.
Jesus was well known for his healing powers in the New Testament, but his role as a healer goes back much further than that. The Old Testament literature was rich with references to the great physician, long before he appeared in the pages of the New Testament. In ancient history, God is reported to have appeared to people in his preincarnate form, calledtheophanies. This form is mentioned in a number of appearances, to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-4), and Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30). He is also involved in healing people. In Exodus 15:26, God is referred to as Yahweh Rapha, meaning “I am the Lord who heals you.” It was said of Jesus, as God with us, that he is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4), revealing his activity not only in the past, but in the present, and in the future as well. The psalmist lovingly proclaimed, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Ps 102:25). He is also mentioned as being the sun of righteousness having “healing in its wings” (Mal 4:6), obviously a reference to his unique healing powers.
John, the beloved apostle, began his Gospel with the following description of Jesus: “Through Him all things were made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (Jn 1:3). Certainly Jesus needs no introduction to his prolific healing ministry in the Gospels. Almost every page describes numerous miracles of healing that took place at his command. Jesus is at once the source of the life power and the healer of all disease and conditions. Not only is God the source of miracles and the source of healing, but he is also the designer of the human body itself. He understands every function and operation of the human body. We are told that there is nothing in the universe, or on the earth, including humankind, that he himself did not design or make (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17).
Since God is not only the source of life itself, but the actual power as well, it is reasonable and true to say that no miracle has ever taken place with which he was not intimately involved. That there is a transaction that takes place when miracles occur is obvious. There is a transference of power from the source, Jesus, to the recipient cells, tissues, or organs, and nowhere is this transference principle more apparent than at the crucifixion of Christ.
At the time of the crucifixion, when the life left his body, a powerful surge of life energy emanated from his corpse, and it rippled through the cemetery ground itself for some distance. It actually caused an earthquake. Wherever this residual life force traveled within the cemetery, it contacted other dead bodies. These dead bodies received his life force and came to life, according to the Gospel narratives. They were catapulted from their graves by the force and went all over Jerusalem, telling people about Jesus. The drama is played out for us in Matthew 27:52: “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”
This was the most powerful medical miracle ever to have taken place. There has been nothing like it since. Jesus contained the life force within himself, but it could not be constrained for long. When the life force left his dead body, many others benefited from the residual power. We rarely, if ever, hear this taught, but nevertheless, it is an important part of the crucifixion and resurrection story. We see, then, that all miracles are a flow of energy from God, through Jesus, to the receptor. Often this flow of energy is in the form of technology. Not that technology itself contains any life force, but it represents the gift of the genius of those who have developed their God-given gifts of intelligence and creativity. This is as much a part of miracles as the direct infusion of power we associate with the stories of miracles.
Looking at the issues regarding miracles and how they operate, and especially examining the role of Jesus in the details of life, power, and the healing of cells and tissue, we find that there are other, newer, and more long range issues that emerge. Today, it is not enough to understand the relationship between God, life, Jesus, and technology. We must examine some underlying issues that affect our participation in miraculous events. Perhaps the most important issue affecting medicine as we know it today, or even as we hope to experience it in the future, is the field of bioethics. Bioethics came about as a result of the Nuremberg war trials of the 1950s.
During World War II, many truly horrific medical and psychological experiments were arbitrarily performed by German physicians on helpless prisoners of war, mostly Jewish men and women as well as those who were considered mentally or physically defective or disabled. There was no regard for their health, lives, or consequences. The effort to correct this injustice was summed up in the doctrine of informed consent. It was believed that no person ought to be tested or experimented on without express consent. This fundamental premise of human rights soon gave way to deeper questions of ethical behavior in the practice of medicine.
Today, the field of bioethics dominates every area of medicine and psychology, including research and development. In every area, bioethics leads the way in deciding if a product, treatment, procedure, or technological advance will violate someone’s morals, conscience, or religion. Each year, enormous amounts of money are spent by research and development companies to determine what is acceptable or not acceptable to the consuming public. In theory, the emerging guidelines and protocols are designed to safeguard the intents and desires of everyone.
However, in nearly every case where ethics of any given situation are concerned, the wishes of proponents or developers of technology, procedures, and practice have taken precedence over the wishes of the public at large. As a case in point, many people today feel that the practice of partial birth abortion ought to cease. Yet in almost every case where it comes before the court, each state’s ban on the procedure has been struck down. The driving force behind this is, of course, money. The abortion industry is a growth industry with revenues in the billions of dollars.
Because the scientific development of new products is built on the foundation of ideas, needs, and creativity, that development is dependent on the flow of money to sustain it and bring those ideas to market. It costs the industry a great deal of money and time to bring a product to market, and the odds of that product being financially successful are not always good. Ethics often trail behind in the efforts to fund a project that has the potential to earn large profits for investors. This is evident in the area of genomics and the tremendous financial gains this field offers to those who have the vision for future developments.
We have looked at how medicine and technology have already changed the practice of obstetrics, especially in the area of in vitro fertilization. Consider this scenario: it is now possible to recover the ovaries of an unborn aborted female fetus and use them commercially. Someone can extract her eggs, fertilize them, implant them in a prospective mother, and bring that fetus to term. This child will be the product of a genetic mother who was dead before she was ever born. How will the field of ethics, which is still struggling with so many new ideas, handle this situation in the future? The need for healthy human eggs is in demand for a number of uses. Among these uses are the fertilizing of the eggs, then using the fertilized eggs in stem cell research. Although the government has banned the use of aborted stem cells in research, there is no such ban in the private sector. Private laboratories are free to purchase as many eggs as they can find, at market prices.
It will also be possible to use the potential siblings of that same child for experimental purposes (Hyde and Setaro 2001). This is morally reprehensible to those who hold a pro-life perspective. This is only one of a multitude of issues that have resulted from rapid advances in the sciences. Other questions arise: What happens to the rest of the fertilized embryos that remain from the in vitro process? Most of them are in a freezer somewhere, in limbo. A number of these frozen embryos have become the focal point for lawsuits, disputes, and hard feelings. This is an ethical dilemma for many people. Genetic engineering is an up-and-coming field of research. We can now test for many genetic abnormalities and defects. If something untoward comes along in an embryo today, we can simply dispose of it and use another one.
Organ transplantation is another fertile field of ethical dispute. Conflict sometimes arises over just when the donor is pronounced dead. Some organ recovery teams anxiously wait over a immediately terminal person, counting the seconds until the person is pronounced dead, as the window of time is critical in recovering organs for transplantation. Legal issues can either speed up or reduce the time in which an organ can be recovered from the donor and then be safely transplanted into someone else. This places prospective organ donor recipients in a difficult situation as well as those who are on standby to assist in the recovery and critical transplantation efforts.
My family faced this dilemma when my cousin was scheduled for a kidney transplant. It was 12 hours over the recommended time limit when he finally received the new kidney. The kidney proved to be nonviable and died. As a result, he went through several surgeries and severe complications, which caused him to die far earlier than was expected. He was unable to obtain another kidney.
Some of the implications of informed consent with regard to genetic testing and the huge conflicts that are expected to arise in this emerging field loom large for the future. Does consent imply ownership in some way, especially when there is the potential for money to be involved? This is a problem with egg donors and recipients. What will be the final determination of the legal and moral issues that may arise as a result of all the knowledge that is already on the scene, and what will surely come from genetic testing? Privacy issues come quickly to mind. Who should profit from the research already going on? Would clinical test subjects be able to profit from their own problems?
Today, we are shadowed through every medical treatment or procedure via the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This is supposed to grant us privacy against having our personal medical information used against us in any way. It is interesting to note that the same documents that protect our privacy also provide for our personal medical information to be shared by the medical community for their express benefit. It is likely that legal, ethical, and moral issues will continue to emerge and will seek answers in every aspect of medicine as well as impact how science and individuals look at and understand miracles—and indeed, it should. One of those issues has to do with the competing rights of the individual to have all the information he or she needs or wants about what his or her options are for treatment, and the need to sign necessary consent for that treatment. These are two opposite issues, and they come together regularly (Drell and Adamson 2000).
Fortunately, agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health (n.d.), which jointly govern the entire Human Genome Project, have included in their budget a substantial amount of money to fund various programs that relate to these issues. They have established a division called Ethical, Social, and Legal Issues (ESLI), which deals with ethical, social, and legal issues.
It is projected that within the next 20 years or so, your medical records will contain all of your DNA codes (Drell and Adamson 2000). This is good news and bad news. The good news is that health care professionals will have access to your entire genetic makeup and will be able to design drugs and techniques that will help you much better than they can do today. The bad news is that it raises huge privacy issues that might affect your job, credit, or even your marriage value. As with every issue, there is always an upside and a downside.
In the future, we will have to learn how to cope with our considerable privacy losses as well as learn how to profit from the benefits of this brave new world of information. Our children and grandchildren will no doubt handle these issues much easier that their parents and grandparents. After all, they have grown up in the computer generation and have already proven themselves to be information-adaptable.
The future is exciting. Miracles will continue to happen, when they are necessary. God will give up none of his power to the mere machinery of modern medicine, advanced technology, or scientific knowledge, but will continue to work his miracles through them and over and above them. In fact, these good things come about because of God’s desire to give us and reveal to us important parts of who he is. Behind every forward step in science, God is there, applauding and urging us onward—but he will not be limited by our progress. The force of the miraculous is a vast reservoir out there beyond our best achievements. History will be rewritten again and again in the next 20 years, and it will look very different beyond that. This is neither good nor bad; it is simply what it is. We rightly call it progress.
We, as human beings, are a work still in progress. Miracles are a part of that progress. We have come a long way on our journey to maturity as a species, but there is still a long way to go. We need the guidance and presence of God to make the journey, both as individuals and as a society. God clearly wants to accompany us on this journey. It is, after all, a process. The best miracle is that we are still here and jogging forward. God is with us! Life is a process. God is in the process. Therefore, we can trust the process.