Thursday, 20 November 2008

Thought for the Day - BBC Radio Bristol

Text of this morning's thought

In matters of life and death, people are often accused of “playing God”. But some recent events have made me think we should be more careful before we level this charge at others.
The issue came to mind yesterday when I read about a remarkable windpipe transplant undertaken in Spain. The replacement trachea was actually grown in Bristol from cells taken from the woman who needed it. The success of the operation paves the way for the possibility of growing any number of replacement organs in laboratories.
Compare this to the story of Hannah Jones, the 13-year-old who last week refused a heart transplant operation; and to that of the paralysed 23-year-old Daniel James, who chose to end his own life last month.
Who, if anyone, was playing God in these cases? Few accused the Bristol and Spanish doctors of doing so, even though they grew body parts to deliberately alter the course of life and death. Few accused Hannah Jones of usurping the deity, even though her decision will almost certainly make her life shorter than it would be. But when Daniel James chose to shorten his life, using no Frankenstein science, he was accused by many of playing God.
I’m not sure this makes much sense. It is as though we are allowed to try as hard as we can to influence the direction of our lives, just as long as we don’t succeed in actually getting our hands on the rudder. To be human, it seems, is never to take decisive control, while always trying and failing to do so.
In other words, trying to play God is usually seen as both normal and acceptable. It’s succeeding which is both rare and condemned.