FEATURED IMAGE: Dominique Amendola
– Fausto Gomez OP
The phenomenon of globalization cannot be denied. It is here to stay – and its economic and technological influence keeps growing by leaps and bounds: “The ever-quickening pace of technological and scientific innovation, and the phenomenon of globalization have multiplied interactions between cultures, religions and different fields of study. And among the many dimensions of our human family and the earth, our common home.” Pope Francis adds: “At the level of culture, our goal must be a new and universal ethical perspective attentive to the themes of creation and human life” (Pope Francis, Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 25, 2019; Letter to PAV, January 6, 2019).
The growing development of global bioethics, techno ethics and robot ethics is very significant and hopeful. It attempts at addressing the growing need of a universal bioethics and of a global dialogue on human life and health, on creation, and on scientific and technological interventions. In this context, the address of Pope Francis to the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life on its silver anniversary is truly remarkable and innovative. The Argentine Pope speaks of Bioethics as “reflection and dialogue – between believers and unbelievers, as well as between believers of different religions – on ethical problems, even the most fundamental ones, that affects the life of man.” Hence, the Pope affirms, “The prospect of a global ethics, with a broad vision and a concern for the impact of the environment on life and health, offers a significant opportunity for strengthening the new covenant between the Gospel and creation.”
Bioethics is “life-ethics,” the ethics of life, which tries to apply fundamental ethical principles to the new problems open up by biotechnology and biomedicine. The influence of technology in human life is pervasive. Jacques Ellul speaks of “pantechnology.” Technology is most useful, an amazing product of human competence and ingenuity. Technology is “a human characteristic.” True humanism is a humanism of life and a just and fraternal humanism. This humanism open to transcendence believes in God as the Creator of humanity and the Father of all humans. Technology is God’s gift and therefore good in itself, but as anything in man’s hands it can be abused and even deified. Science for the sake of science, progress for the sake of progress (which is mainly the progress of “machines and technology”) is anthropologically and ethically lacking: the focus must be the human person, this and that human being whom science and technology must serve towards improving his or her life.
The Church is not a scientist, or a politician, or an expert in economy. She is “an expert in humanity.” From her faith in Jesus and his Gospel and the wisdom accumulated through the ages, the Church offers her voice and speaks with others on the radical questions that keep challenging all men and women: the questions on the meaning of life – its beginning and end -, on human dignity and rights, and on the principles of the stewardship of creation, cooperation, and justice and solidarity.
As in all kinds of professional ethics, bioethics’ central principle is: respect every human person and his or her basic rights. Technology – and science – is for the human person, and not the human person for technology. Respect ought to be practiced regarding scientific and technological intervention on the person – and all other creatures. Respect extends to all persons. It is not selective. This is the “dramatic paradox”: at the point in which science could offer the equality that God wished for to all people, Pope Francis writes, “we observe an embittering of conflicts and a growth of inequality.” Respect for human beings means that persons ought to be treated as subjects and not as object; as ends and not as means; as he/she (justly), as “thou” (fraternally).
It is significant to note – from a humanist perspective – that ethical principles, the principles guiding technology and biomedicine (respect, justice and autonomy, solidarity and fraternity, informed/proxy consent, truthfulness and confidentiality, cooperation, etc.) may be interiorized by the acquisition of the corresponding virtues, or good operative habits that dispose us to act well in the different fields of action, and to be flourishing human beings, and good citizens of a country and of the world
The fundamental ethical principle – and the virtue – of justice in biomedicine and technology means: equal cases are to be given equal treatment, without any discrimination. With the principles of justice and of solidarity, there is, moreover, the ethical principle of subsidiary, which is always mentioned with and after solidarity in the social etchings of the Church. Subsidiarity underlines that the individual person, the family, non-governmental associations must be respected and strengthened. It implies, furthermore, that local problems must be solved – as much as possible – locally. When problems go beyond local possibilities, they ought to be solved with the cooperation of other regional and/or international institutions.
Among human rights, bioethics, techno ethics, and robot ethics focus on the right to life, the right to bodily integrity and the right to at least basic healthcare. Biomedicine and healthcare ought to respect the rights of all persons – all patients-, in particular the right to adequate information, the right to refuse treatment (hopefully useless or too burdensome treatment only), and the right to privacy.
The teaching of the Church offers its arguments from reason and faith, and defends “the distinctiveness of human life, which is an absolute good” (Pope Francis). The Church’s living tradition promotes human life from the moment of conception to natural death, provides a meaning to suffering and death, and invites all humans to live in harmony with all others, to work for peace through justice and love, and to be on the side of those who are on the margins of life. As a community of disciples, the Church joins many others in promoting human life, which is “at every stage of its development and the condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and the opposition to war and the death penalty (cf Letter to PAV). Moreover, the community of disciples of Jesus underlines the defense and promotion of basic human rights, which are unfortunately violated in our world, where we sadly contemplate still “lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction, and elementary health care” (Pope Benedict XVI).
We live in a technological and mechanical global society. Pope Francis writes: “Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be so employed that they contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home”). Machines must be “moral machines.” For instance, self-driven cars – or car-robots – must have a code of ethics grounded on ethical principles, including the principle of informed consent.
There is today the real danger that the human being may be “technologized,” rather than technology “humanized”: “intelligent machines are hastily attributed capacities that are properly human” (Pope Francis, Address to PAV). A techno-ethics, a robot ethics that consider the different dimensions of the human person – personal, social, ecological, ethical and spiritual, is necessary to evaluate the new advances of technology and biomedicine, to propose guidelines “towards a constructive and equitable interaction between human beings and the latest versions of machines” (Message to PAV).
Certainly, the new discoveries have an “extraordinary potential” to benefit every human being and humanity. Robotics with artificial intelligence offers great potential to improve our life and assist us humans in many ways. However, it may also be used to manipulate and control others. Serious questions are posed by “the governability of algorithms that process huge amounts of data; technological manipulation of genetic makeup and brain functions” (Pope Francis). The Church is for the proper, that is, ethical use of artificial intelligence and robots and algorithms, and she is very strongly against the dehumanizing combination of humans and machines that destroy our nature as intelligent and sentient human persons.
Based on the Word of God, the teaching of the Church is clearly against possible trans-humanism and post-humanism, which tell us that homo sapiens will become homo deus – man god! From the beginning of human history, some men and women (like Eve and Adam, or the builders of the Tower of Babel) have been tempted to replace God and become gods themselves. Time and again, these men and women have failed and will continue failing. Neither science/technology nor reason can be deified. Wise words: “The proclamation of the ‘death of God’, in the vain hope of a ‘superman’, produces an unmistakable result: the ‘death of man’ (Pontifical Academy for Life).