The cathedral was the tallest building in medieval Europe. In many modern cities, the medical center is the tallest structure, a testament to its importance in civilization today, as John Evans points out in “Contested Reproduction: Genetic Technologies, Religion and Public Debate.”
Modern medicine is devoted to the relief of suffering. A central theme is that all suffering is meaningless and it’s a moral obligation to alleviate it. And it’s not just the suffering of a patient but also the patient’s family and friends. The parents of a child with Tay-Sachs or cystic fibrosis suffer along with the child. Reproductive genetic technologies or RGTs offer an ever-increasing array of medical options to avoid suffering—each one a potential ethical dilemma. (Read yesterday’s post about options for Tay-Sachs.)
One central dilemma is the role of human suffering. Alongside the scientific view of suffering as meaningless is an alternative religious view: suffering is never pointless. Suffering is always meaningful. Indeed, suffering is central to spirituality and self-understanding.
The role of suffering in religion has three sources, Evans points out.
- One goes back to Adam and Eve and their fall from grace. Suffering, then, is punishment for original sin.
- A second view is that God suffers with us, and to eliminate suffering diminishes the importance of God in our lives.
- A third view is that suffering is the way to moral perfection. Suffering leads to personal and spiritual growth. Suffering makes us worthy.
From these perspectives, the relief of suffering is either impossible or undesirable.