On Oct. 28, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speaking at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., expressed concern that our current ability to do detailed genetic testing would lead to the elimination of people with certain traits.
Even though I believe Paul was engaging in political rhetoric more than expressing an ethical concern, I also believe such concerns have a basis in reality, particularly in light of events of the last century.
In my lifetime, I have seen science and technology used to do great harm and evil. Gas chambers at Auschwitz, atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, napalm in Southeast Asia, and the more recent drone and chemical warfare.
The invention and development of the AK47 and subsequent assault weapons that made their way into the hands of mentally impaired people and terrorists could also be mentioned. And the list could go on and on.
With each destructive act, we, as a society, search for and usually find justification for creating and using such weapons – or so we think.
For example, hundreds die at the hands of those brandishing assault weapons. Yet much of our country clings to an interpretation of the Second Amendment that probably was never intended by its writers, nor could they have foreseen its consequences with the advent of today’s weapons.
Several years ago, Darrell J. Fasching, professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida, wrote an essay titled “From Genocide to Global Ethics by Way of Storytelling,” which appeared in the book “Explorations in Global Ethics.”
In the essay, he comments: “What is striking about the works of many of the postHolocaust Jewish theologians … is their linking of the particularity of the Jewish experience to the destiny of the whole human race. … They persistently draw a connection between Auschwitz and Hiroshima.”
“This link,” Fasching concluded, “is the progressive unfolding of a secularized technological civilization which no longer holds anything sacred, not even human life – nothing that is except what Jacques Ellul calls ‘the technical imperative’: If it can be done, it must be done.”
Those who have followed or executed this “technical imperative” throughout history were not necessarily demons and evil people.
Most often they were ordinary folks, like you and me, who seemed to be able to justify their actions or disown their culpability.
Like those who now appear in history books, we are capable of the best and the worst, individually and as a nation.
We must, as a society of mostly caring and loving people, be vigilant and insist on accountability for what we do with our technology.
In 37 years in medicine, I have seen science and technology make a positive difference.
Infectious diseases eliminated, epilepsy controlled or cured, hearts repaired, some cancers made curable and strokes interrupted. This list could go on as well.
Meanwhile, as science and technology changes how we live, history reminds us that it is imperative that we remain vigilant and ask ourselves again and again, “Should we do this?” The answer should never be, “Yes, because we can.”
No matter how we feel about Paul politically, or the charges of plagiarism that have recently arisen, we cannot afford to be dismissive of his warning.
Bill Holmes is an ordained Baptist (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) pastor and part-time hospital chaplain. He retired from medicine after 34 years of practicing and teaching pediatrics and pediatric neurology. He is also a doctor of ministry student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @BillHolmesmdiv.