I have thought about this a number of times in the last couple of years, and am finally writing it out. Please note that while I give a couple of examples in here, I am not generally trying to pass judgment on the people involved, nor trying to suggest that they should have done something different from what they did. I'm just saying that these things give me pause and make me think.
I must begin by saying that I am grateful for many of the astounding advances which science has made in the last century or two. We have broken the sound barrier. We have been to the moon. We have split the atom and begun to unravel DNA. We have cloned sheep. We are able to save the lives of babies who insist on being born scarcely halfway through their gestation. We are often able to stop the pre-term labor that leads to such premature babies. We have machines which can help people breathe or keep their hearts beating when they are unable to do so on their own. We can bring people back from the brink of death.
And yet, in spite of all the things that we CAN do, sometimes I have to wonder, SHOULD we do all these things?
I think of my first two miscarriages, one which occured spontaneously, and the other of which was medically managed (with a D&C). Can medical intervention save lives? Of course--my first miscarriage necessitated a trip to the emergency room in fact, and I'm ever so thankful for the medications they used to stop my bleeding. But with the second miscarriage the intervention was not necessary, it was a choice... and based on the emotional differences between the two situations, when the third miscarriage was immenent I chose to let nature take its course. I suppose that is when I started thinking about what we can do verses what we should do.
I think one of the biggest cases of "but should we" is the atomic bomb. Yes, we can make it...but should we? And if we make it, should we use (or should we have used) it?
We can clone sheep, and dogs, and who knows what all else...but should we? Is it our place to play gods? Is it moral to create a being in this unnatural way? Or is it natural?
I'll admit that I have mixed feelings about the money that is spent on space exploration: I'm just not sure what the practical benefit is, and whether that benefit warrants the cost. My questioning increases with the cost in human life of each Challenger or Columbia.
What of the many people who have the request "do not recussitate" on their medical records? Sure, we can use electricity and oxygen to bring them back from the brink of death--sometimes even from the far side of that brink--but should we? It seems that many people think we should not.
I think about Terri Shiavo, the woman who was in a coma for 15 years before they finally decided to 'pull the plug' and remove her from life support. Her husband was ready to do it after 8 years when tests indicated that she had sufficient brain damage that she would probably never wake up, and would not likely be functional even if she did. Her parents fought his decision though, feeling that pulling the plug would constitute murder since Terri had never left a living will indicating her wishes on the subject. And so it became an ugly legal battle...and the machines kept beeping away for another 7 years while lawyers tried to decide whether pulling the plug was legal or moral or who knows what all else. In 2005 her feeding tube was removed and she died within a couple of days. So the question remains--at what point does it cease to be "life support" and become "keeping a dead person's vital signs going"? Obviously we could keep her alive (to whatever degree) for 15 years, but should we have done so?
(Incidentally, situations like this one are a good reminder of the need to have a living will, not just a will in the event of your death...but that's a different topic.)
My sister-in-law was nearing the end of her first trimester of pregnancy when she began to have signs of miscarriage. She went to the hospital, and they were able to stop the labor and save the baby. She spent quite a while on bedrest to prevent it from happening again. When she did deliver her son at 37 weeks, they discovered that he had Downs Syndrome. He's had heart and breathing problems, several surgeries, hospitalizations, a feeding tube, and so on. SIL explained to me one day "well, my body knew that something was wrong with him, and that's why it tried to miscarry." She is very afraid of having any other children because she feels that they would probably have Downs too. She spends hours every day attending to his special needs. He is a sweet, loving, and lovable child, but he definitely has changed their family.
Now I have been through several miscarriages--would I have stopped them if I could? Yes, probably...but sometimes I wonder how life might have been different for my SIL and her family if science had not been able to save her baby...
As I said, I'm not trying to pass judgment in these cases, nor do I know per se what I would choose if it were me in the situation. All I'm saying is that sometimes I can't help but wonder if we get a little too caught up in what we can do, and forget to ask whether we should.
I think it's a point worth pondering.