Text of this morning's thought:
On Saturday, the people of Bristol had the chance to look around our new £60m heart institute, ahead of its full opening next month. It’s an impressive looking facility, and testimony to the incredible progress medical science has made over the last century.
Yet we should remember that this progress has not always been welcomed. For example, today, 3,500 heart transplants are carried out around the world every year. But when the first was carried out, unsuccessfully, in 1967, many reacted with horror. Malcolm Muggeridge referred to it as “the final degradation of our Christian way of life.”
Most of us today, Christians included, find this reaction puzzling. But actually, it is quite common for people to make strong moral judgements on the basis of instinctive repulsion. Psychologists call it the “yuck” factor. If we find the idea of something disgusting, we are more likely to believe that it is morally wrong.
Heart transplantation is a reminder of how time can enable us to see the good in what initially seems grisly.
This is something we need to bear in mind when thinking about the frontiers of medicine today. For instance, many recoil at potential scientific advances involving human and animal-human hybrid embryos. There are indeed serious issues at stake here, and it would be wrong to dismiss all concerns about such technologies as ignorant gut reactions.
But at the same time, if we are not able to set aside our emotional responses to such technologies, and judge them on their merits, then we could easily find ourselves seeing danger and wickedness in what is actually beneficial and good. The scary science of today could well be the routine and welcome surgery of tomorrow.