We live in a world where technology is advancing very quickly. This is very evident for me within my own lifetime. For instance, cell phones have only become affordable for the average person since the mid 1990's. The first computer I had was an Atari 800XL with 64k memory and it used a cassette drive to store information. That was around 1985. In 1993, I brought my first PC as we know them to be today. It had 4 MB RAM, a 410 MB hard drive, and it had a 66 MHz processor. Today, I have a laptop that is 3 GB RAM (730% larger), 223 GB hard drive (540% larger), and a 2 GHz processor (30 times faster).
The medical field advances at unbelievable rates. Procedures like heart bypass are becoming almost common place. Great strides have been made in fighting cancer. These are good things. The problem is that the "person" is being forgotten. It is good to find cures and new procedures. But what gets lost is the ethical question is it good. There is a quote from an unknown source, "Just because we can do a thing, does not mean we must do a thing."
Human beings are "persons," not machines. We have a special dignity given to us by God (cf. My Presentation on Catholic Teaching and Dignity of the Person, and Treating Life with Dignity and Love, Part I). We must always see the person as such.
Gaudium Et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is one of the documents from the Second Vatican Council. It speaks extensively of the person. There is nothing wrong with technological advances if it either advances the dignity of the person or it neutral to it. But the technological advances must never be put before the person.
Paragraph #35 of Gaudium Et Spes states
"Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has. Similarly, all that men do to obtain greater justice, wider brotherhood, a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about."
Technological advances can advance the person by making advances in how we use our resources and improving the quality of life for the "person." Yet, it is not the technology itself that is most important. Rather that the how we see the person, how we treat each other (justice), and how we interrelate that is important.
Staying with the medical field, one area to consider is that of Stem-Cell research. Contrary to what some believe, the Catholic Church is in favor of Stem-Cell Research to the extent that it seeks to treat medical problems currently untreatable. The problem with Stem Cell Research is that much of the research is done on embryos and that research results in the destruction of embryos. And embryos are life, and life cannot never be destroyed be destroyed. Research on adult stem cells or those obtained from the placenta after a normal birth is acceptable.
Turning to another area of technology that has greatly advanced in the last twenty years, we look at our means of communication. In 1989, the only common place means of communication for most individuals were the "land-line" phone, the postal mail, and in-person communication. Cell phones and email existed but were not common place for individuals. There was no such thing as text messaging. Today, even kids have email and cell phones and text messaging in common place thanks to advancing technology that has made these items cheaper and easier to use.
The problem? We have more means of communication to send off a one-line message to a person who could ever be in another country and they still receive it in the blink of an eye. But the problem for many is that while we stay in touch with more people, we end up having less depth in our relationship. Depth is not measured by how much we know about the person. The depth of relationship is how we see the person, how we care about them. technology does not cause less depth. It can even help it but it does not replace it.
For Further Reading
"A clean heart create for him, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit." Psalm 51:12
Renewal of Faith
"For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."