Volume 1 Number 7
Man Shall not Live By Science Alone
01 March 1988
An old patient of mine and her husband sought my help to make peace with their 20-year-old son.
By DR HASSAN HATHOUT
A view from Kuwait
In my part of the world the medical doctor is still called `the wise man', a title he has held for centuries. Once you earn the community's confidence you are sure to be consulted on matters completely outside the sphere of medicine.
One of the features of my life is what I call my `telephone clinic'. People ring me up - many wanting to remain anonymous - to explain their problems and seek my views about them. Although sometimes inconvenient, it is a source of happiness for me. It is a pleasure to be able to solve problems and it gives me satisfaction to feel I am trusted.
On one of these occasions an old patient of mine and her husband sought my help to make peace with their 20-year-old son. He was quite a religious young man, so I reminded him of God's words in the Qur'an: `Your Lord decrees that you worship none but him... and that you be kind to your parents.' The son retorted: `No. I owe them nothing, doctor.' Noticing my shock he explained: `When they married they made up their minds to have two children only. It was sheer chance that I was number two after my elder sister. Had I been conceived later, they would have killed me through abortion as they did the five that came after me.'
This took me by surprise, as it brought me face to face with a dimension of the issue of abortion that had not previously crossed my mind -that the victim of abortion is not only the aborted baby but can well be the relationship with unaborted children.
Yet we live in the age of the crime of massed abortion. Innocent lives are sacrificed just because they are unwanted or inconvenient. The sanctity of human life has been progressively undermined, hand in hand with progress in science and technology.
Medical science has contributed by standing neutral and making this crime something praiseworthy and safe - a clinical killing under aseptic conditions using a spectrum of scientific methods including dilatation evacuation, vacuum aspiration, intrauterine injection or pharmacological uterine stimulation.
Medical science has accepted the argument that the freedom of a woman over her body could be extended to the killing, by the hand of the doctor, of an innocent foetus which, scientifically, is not a part of her body, and whose presence in her uterus is of her own doing and not the baby's.
It is my conviction - and that of my religion - that human life is a value in its own right, and its sanctity covers all phases, including the foetal. Without values to guide science people take the status of `things', and foetuses become tiny little `things'. Once the value of human life is compromised, the logical consequences for society are that one has a right to die (clinically) if ill beyond cure, and then, later perhaps, that one has a duty to die if by reason of age, infirmity or nonproductivity one's life becomes a financial liability.
This value-less appraisal of human life is not a fiction in today's world. The euthanasia movement is actively gathering momentum in some countries. A new tune in modern socio-economic literature preaches that when the human machine has outlasted its productive span so that its maintenance costs more than its productivity, it should be disposed of. Such clinical disposal is being sweetened by calling it `death with dignity'.
The most scientific arguments are used to promote these ideas, but unfortunately they emanate from purely materialistic concepts. They ignore the fact that it is value and not matter that makes Man more than just another animal; master of his environment, founder of civilization and - if you believe in God as I do - the bearer of God's Spirit, the shedder of his light and the trustee of his guidance on earth.
But what is the meaning of God's spirit, light and guidance in scientific terms? Practically nothing... for science concerns itself with the study of the tangible and is, as yet, unequipped to handle `values'. This would not have mattered if scientists did not deny the existence of whatever lies beyond the realm of science.
Unfortunately many have fallen into this trap. A new scientific `religion' called `secular humanism' maintains that human values are to be laid down by human beings without reference to any outside or supernatural source. This denies God and makes Man his own god. The source of Man's godlike authority is his mind, the creator of his science.
No sooner does Man assume the role of a god than he faces a critical impasse. For the human mind admits its own limitations. Every new discovery today proves our ignorance yesterday, and every new discovery tomorrow reveals our ignorance today.
Had the human mind claimed the completeness worthy of a god, then research would be stopped and research budgets cancelled. The more we know, the more aware we become of our ignorance.
In its tendency to self-worship, science fell into another trap: that whatever can be done should be done - if for no other reason than that it is possible. In my field of medicine, test-tube baby technology was soon followed by the technology of surrogacy, where a woman carries through a full pregnancy the foetus of another couple, and gives it away when she delivers it. For the first time in human history the human female is willing and able to mother a foetus with the prior intention of giving it away. As this is in most cases done for a certain amount of money, `motherhood', as a value, is reduced by having a price put on it.
The right of the baby to have and know a legitimate father and a legitimate mother is ignored. Indeed, the concept of `legitimacy' does not seem to be very scientific in modern times. If `motherhood leasing' and `,infant selling' become widespread and a new generation knows that it is common practice that a mother carries, delivers, cashes and gives away... what effect would this have on the bond that ties consecutive generations in love and compassion?
We live in the age of the sexual revolution. When Freud formulated his views (a great scientific leap in his days although later dead and buried) people put sex into the domain of science, freeing it from the unscientific constraints that confined it to marital life.
Similarly, when the American Psychiatric Association ceased to consider homosexuality as an aberration to be treated, the public thought it was scientifically acceptable. This not only encouraged homosexual activity amongst suppressed homosexuals, but also considerably spread homosexuality itself.
The result of these and other moves is the current epidemic of exploitation, venereal disease and enslavement to sexuality and pleasure-seeking. We count the cost not only in terms of health but also in loss of selfrespect, mutual respect and self-restraint, without which we lose our humanity.
Medical and biological science is by no means the only illustration of the possible hazards of science unguided by values, but it is the latest member of the club. Since the dawn of history, medicine has confined its efforts to the service of life. Nowadays it has started to be a double-edged weapon - sometimes for life and sometimes against it.
Here I am not referring to abortion and euthanasia - but it is no secret today that preparations for biological warfare have been making significant headway over the past decades. Top military secrets probably reside now more in biology laboratories than in those of chemistry, physics or mechanics. When the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Oppenheimer the father of the atomic bomb - said: `Today physicists have known sin.' Will the day come when the same will be said about biologists?
I am a firm believer in science and a strong advocate of scientific advancement. But I am fully aware that if science stands neutral between morality and immorality, good and evil, what is useful and what is harmful, then, at least, people - including scientists - should refrain from such neutrality. Science is subject to Man, and not Man to science. The freedom of scientific pursuit is sacred but its products are not necessarily so. The bridge between science on the one hand and technology and mass production on the other should be heavily guarded by a value system. In other words science must have a conscience.
But from where do we derive our values? If Man is too fallible, then what about God? Does God exist?
Imagine being told that the order of the words in a dictionary was the result of an explosion in a printer's shop. Would your scientific mind swallow it? Look around you, thoroughly and scientifically, from atom to galaxy. All has been planned, arranged and set to function according to immutable scientific laws. A creation immensely more sophisticated than the words in a dictionary.
If you think God is there, is it logical that he uniquely endowed Man with concepts of responsibility and accountability and yet left him without the possibility of divine guidance?
Hassan Hathout is Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the University of Kuwait, a member o f the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Organization of Medical Sciences and a member of the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology & Obstetrics) Committee for the study of Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction.