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The Search for Spiritually Centered Medicine,
by Ted Pelonis. Howard
Magazine 10(1), Fall 2001: 8-15.
Should the miracles of spiritual healing be accepted as the newest medical technology?
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Jones would prompt the president to consider where the new technology would take us and whether it is in our control to use it constructively. "We are inquisitive beings. That's human nature: to understand, to know, to facilitate knowledge and grow in our intellect. But the question is, how do we use it? Look at atomic energy. You could use it to light a city or power a submarine or use it for nuclear armament. A spiritual centered morality allows you to be constructive instead of destructive."
During a July visit with President Bush, Pop John Paul II decried embryonic stem-cell research, calling for an all-out ban. The president would have been advised in much the same way by Reverend Baraki, although in words not quite so scathing. "The Church is very clear on stem-cell research. The good end does not justify the means. The good end would be to heal or cure certain things science would like to cure. The evil means would be the destruction of the embryo that is life."
Noureddine Berka, HUH assistant professor of pediatrics and a senior research associate at Howard's National Human Genome Center, would have pressed the president to look for alternatives to embryonic stem-cell research such as adult stem cells. "I believe that if we want to avoid the slippery slope, one would attempt to look for non-embryonic stem cells as the place to focus our effort. There is a general principle in Islam that if an action may lead you to harm, one must carefully weight the risk to benefits before taking that step." The slippery slope Berka fears is that stem-cell research creates a secondary market for embryos stored at in-vitro fertilization clinics, creating an incentive or even moral imperative for more abortions and the use of stronger fertility drugs to produce more embryos. "That is, a person who says 'I'm having a pregnancy that was not planned, it's not all a waste. So I will donate the tissue.' Instead of feeling remorse for having an abortion, she will say, 'Look at all the good it will do'."
History, according to Jones, is littered with examples of human ignorance, from our inability to see the earth as round to misunderstandings about the way the sun rises. Such misunderstandings have often affected medical advancement and the relationships between medicine and spirituality. In the sixth century BC, when the Greek philosopher Alcmaeon conducted the first recorded medical dissection, the Greek religious figures of his time condemned the practice because they saw the body as sacred in much the same way the embryo is held sacred in the debate over stem-cell research. "At one time it was considered an offense to deal with the corpse. So people who studied anatomy initially were going against that taboo," Jones explains. "People had to do really courageous things and make great sacrifices to advance knowledge."
A match made in heaven?
When he founded The Minority Organ Transplant Tissue Educational Program (MOTTEP) ten years ago, Callender observed that ministers, pastors and preachers were discouraging their congregations from donating their organs. Some used anecdotes: "There's the story of going to the pearly gates and St. Peter says, 'You don't have your eyes because you left them for a donation. You won't be able to see your great grandma in the great hereafter'." As part of his educational outreach program, Callender flipped the story on its head, instead stressing, "When you get to the pearly gates it's more likely that St. Peter would say your life was kind of mediocre. But at the end of your life, you left your organs and tissues behind so that others might have a second chance at life and some 50 people benefited from your organs and tissues and that's why you're here." The results of enlightening these religious perceptions were staggering, with the number of donors climbing from 15 percent to 25 percent, a number Callender points out, that is now in line with the percentage of minorities in the United States.
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Related article: A Question of Ethics, by H. Patrick Swygert. Howard Magazine 10(1), Fall 2001.
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reserved. Last updated:
30 October 2001 .
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