Thursday, August 14, 2008

Playing God?

Long back I wrote a post wondering what difference it would have made to people around me if pre-natal detection of cerebral palsy was possible in the initial stages of pregnancy as it is for Down’s syndrome. I haven’t got a clear cut idea of what I feel about the matter or to put it plainly I’m confused. Some days I feel I’d be the first in line with application if ever euthanasia is legalised in our country.

(I know that the glass-half-full theorists among you are itching to pounce on me for thinking about euthanasia. Don’t worry; I’m the same old jovial person if you talk to me. I still get excited if I see a poster of a new film on the road. I still wish to see the next release. It is just that I feel ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the most correct statement and I’m not fit enough to survive).

If you’re wondering why I suddenly dug out an old post; the circus on news channels regarding an abortion plea in the Mumbai High Court as the foetus was supposed to have congenital heart ailment.

The hospital given the charge of assessing the medical condition made a clerical error and another offered free medical care. I don’t know, but all this feels like a joke to me. I’m not being judgemental here about the action that Mehtas took or being a pro-life advocate. Still it gives me a ticklish feeling somewhere. You’re talking about a life and you say ‘a clerical error’. On the other hand, if the child grows up to be ok and finds all the media clippings what kind of emotions he/she will go through or what kind of equation he/she will have with the parents? At least the identity of the couple could have been kept a secret.

Wonder what the parents of Naga Naresh Karuturi would have done if they’d premonition of what their child will go through in his life.

There will more such instances as we make progress in science. But, I believe that Nature will have its own way of getting even with us.

There is a beautiful passage in Jurrasic Park by Michael Crichton about how we tend misuse scientific power:

"You know what's wrong with scientific power?" Malcolm said. "It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are. It never fails."

Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"

Harding made a sign, indicating delirium. Malcolm cocked his eye.

"I will tell you what I am talking about," he said. "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

"Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.

"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify-it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.

"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."

Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"

Ellie nodded.

"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.

"I'll make it simple," Malcolm said. "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple."