Mystical Bioethics Network

Loss of Mystery

- V.R. Manoj
1160, Sixth Avenue, Z-Block, Annanagar,
Chennai-600040, Tamil nadu, India.
E-mail: vrmmail@satyam.net.in
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (2002), 107-109.


A long time ago, there were our very great grandparents who hunted and gathered in the virgin forests of this planet. They discovered new ways to live but were always confused when some among the tribe refused to move after an accident or illness. Thus, death was discovered which was very scary and mysterious. Sometimes, they put the dead in nice little boats onto the rivers with the belief that their loved ones would reach the other world which must exist somewhere beyond the horizon. Thus, belief and ritual was born. But, just as fear and death was discovered, the joy of birth was realized. The labour of love and the cry of a child took away the tears and brought in the ritual of celebration as did the occasions of plentiful harvest , rains and recovery which were celebrated with the new discoveries of art, music and dance. All these cycles seemed to go in perfect harmony until some among the tribe were not very satisfied. So, they ran back into the forests with their bag of questions and discovered spirituality.

Spirituality opened the gates to a strange new feeling which could not be described by human reasoning. It was not an illusion and people who wished to address it discovered many ways of addressing this mystery. Thus came the age of religion. However, this mystery was deepened and made dark by those who proclaimed such powers as intellectual possessions. The luminous light and the awesome power was turned into a dark untreadable land of mysterious possibilities for the ordinary person. These so-called ordinary persons were very disappointed with the blind faith that was demanded of them. They longed for a form of truth that they could be sure of. So, they ran into their homes this time and discovered science.

Science offered the first defined laws that were the same for everybody. Soon, it was found that all perceivable occurrences could be logically explained within the faculties of human reasoning and thus came the ages of scientific revolution where humanity thought it had all the answers. From the shape of the planet to the destiny of steam, science could offer every conceivable power. The ways of old rituals and contemplation were soon reduced to a flicker. Science had begun to question the darkness of mystery with it's reason and religion refused to acknowledge it's most formidable ally. Thus was created the gulf between science and religion, the spirit within each still yearning to unite. The ages of scientific renaissance soon arrived and as science progressed, it came to be realized that science was also a land filled with unforeseen exceptions, especially in biology. With each discovery, definitions for life, personhood, quality of health care became more and more difficult. Our detachment from the anchors of past beliefs had drifted us into an era of uncertainty where we found it increasingly difficult to deal with the powers that we acquired. In our panic, we must have found Bioethics.

Bioethics is a word that has in it's action, tried to unite science and spirituality. But, what has given reason for the emergence of bioethics? The reason does not lie outside but within us and this is not just a platonic statement. Simply speaking, we make the bread, we eat the bread. The definitive laws of nature have been discovered, gathered and kneaded to make the dough of this scientific bread. Having eaten the bread, we would like to leave back the crumbs. Unfortunately, in this case, the crumbs come back to haunt us and so we erect the known barricades of bioethics while searching for answers from spirituality. The irony lies in the fact that spirituality is also facing the same baker's problem!

Our spiritual solutions to scientific problems and scientific solutions to spiritual problems are not a very good idea because they essentially originate from the same man-made cauldron. We seem to respect science only when it offers pleasure and we acknowledge spirituality only when it facilitates our pre-conceived formulations of existence. Bioethics also has a similar condition. We expect bioethics to be the answer and the facilitator to satisfy our pre-conceived notions of an ethical lifestyle. Such notions are mostly based on past experience from science and spirituality and also on the feared anticipation of an uncertain future. Therefore, bioethics as such is not a dynamic tool for our purpose as it is trapped between the barriers of moralistic emotions and time. How can we project bioethics beyond this and why we should do so; will form one of the answers towards the loss of the mystery.

The purpose of bioethics is now becoming clearer. Soon, our crops may no longer be sown by the humble farmer, but by corporate giants. The harvest shall be expected and not awaited. Our children may not come from divine providence but from the wombs of laboratories. We no longer know if someone is dead or in suspended animation. Our lives and our limbs would be enhanced by our machines. The way our health care is going, we may soon become similar to automobiles being made and scrapped on an assembly line with prejudice thrown in for good measure, as an added irony. We have conducted conferences, written books and papers to advance such fears and moral dilemmas to the zenith of human imagination, but to what end ?

We may debate for hours on the best ethical approach, but it is of no value if it does not help restore a poor man's dignity and right for a healthy life. In the end, Bioethics can only be about love. It is not about scholarly discourses and legislations that can only serve as physical ornamentations. Bioethics has come about for a deeper meaning. It has come out because of our innate need to understand. The sadness lies in the fact that we may be headed towards forgetting the true purpose of Bioethics. Our greatest efforts have lied on the enhancement and the preservation of our lives. We have made ethics, dignity and love; the ways and manners with which we conduct our lives. I do realize this has been proposed before as "Bioethics is Love", but probably never inwardly realized. No amount of planning or bridging the gaps can save us unless the spirit of conscious introspection is involved. If we forget this crucial lesson and if we lose this moment, Bioethics would again be left behind in the insecurities of memory as just another attempt towards the loss of the mystery. We seek a mystery in darkness but fail to do so in light.

Every drop in an ocean is unique. Our bioethics is a cement for the blocks of science and spirituality in order to build a bridge. Where this bridge leads to, we may never know. But, let us be on the path. There is a great difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Change is not the answer as it depends dangerously on past experience and anticipation of an unknown future. The time is now and a rapid mutation is needed. For this, a new mind is not really needed. What we need is the erasure of illusion, the loss of mystery and the realization of our times. There exists a realm which we know only by instinct, ritual, spirituality, religion, science and now with bioethics; always mysterious. This is the mystery and it is towards the loss of this mystery that we must channel our efforts. By this, we shall learn the values of universal compassion. The time is not for conclusions, but has always been for a beginning. We are still as innocent as our great grandparents were and let us learn to discover this world anew, just as they did.
Commentary on Manoj

- Erin D. Williams, J.D.
Associate Director, Law, Policy and Ethics
Foundation for Genetic Medicine, Inc.
l0900 University Blvd, MSN 4E3
Manassas, VA 20ll0, USA
Email: EWilliams@GeneticMedicine.org

In V.R.Manoj's article, he interconnects science, ritual, mystery, religion, and bioethics in an interesting way. I was moved by his descriptions of ancient rituals, yet I am unsure that I agree with his explanation of the interplay among the areas he depicts.

The advance of science leads us no closer to understanding motivation (if any) behind the way that the natural world functions, nor to an understanding of why the scientific postulates and laws we discover exist. We may be able to map the human genome in greater detail. We may even be able to begin to understand protein folding well enough to predict the products of genetic code. However, our scientific understanding does little to explain why DNA exists in the first place, what purpose the creatures it helps to create should serve in life, how we can enhance a deep sense of joy in ourselves and engender one in those around us, or similar questions. Science does not shed light on these mysteries, though it does interact with them.

It is the role of bioethics to link our scientific understanding with guidance that we receive from both our scientific and nonscientific exploration. I cannot speak for Frank, but I believe that this is the premise of the Mystical Bioethics Network.
Mysticism and bioethics

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
Chairman, The Centre for International Bioethics
Faculty of Health Sciences
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel
Email: yeruham@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

I"ve decided this time to try to say a few general words about mysticism and bioethics, rather than comment specifically on Manoj"s paper. My reason is that publishing another of Manoj"s papers has reminded me once more of the fact that, besides Erin and myself, the contributors to the Mystical Bioethics Network seem always and only to be Indians. Spirituality seems to be an inseparable part of daily life in India, perhaps more than in most other countries. Indians whom I have met, including scientists and physicians, never seem surprised or put-off in any way, when one wants to discuss the deeper and more mysterious aspects of life. This seems to be much less the case in the West, where empiricist, rationalist and positivist philosophies have not yet lost their influence. Of course, there is a growing interest all over the world, in Eastern spirituality: Yoga, Zen, spiritual martial arts, etc. But this movement has not yet matured sufficiently for its effects to be felt very much in the scientific and medical communities.

Personally, I do not understand how bioethical questions can be discussed without paying some attention to the mystical. This is especially true when we have to make decisions about abortion, or end-of-life care: issues on the borderline between life and death. It is here that we need the humility to admit that we really don"t know anything. Is it "in the interests" of a genetically deformed fetus to be born, or not to be born? It is impossible to answer, without raising the question of whether this fetus has a soul or not, and what will happen to this soul (and to our own) if the fetus is aborted. I am not stating dogmatically that we have souls. But maybe we do, and they are created at the moment of conception, or maybe at the moment of birth, or somewhere in between. Or maybe they pre-existed, in another world. Or perhaps they existed in other bodies, under the doctrine of reincarnation. And perhaps they have to work out a karma, which requires having at least one life with genetic anomalies. And perhaps if we abort this fetus, it will just have to get born in another body with genetic anomalies, so that it will learn some lesson from that experience. Or perhaps we don"t have souls at all, and only matter exists and we are nothing but complex machines.

Similar questions can be raised at the other end of life, in terminal care. And I think we need the humility to raise them before we make dogmatic pronouncements about whether it is "better" or "worse" for a terminal patient to live a little longer. I am not claiming to know anything about the mystical. Nor am I sure that the mystical, or anything spiritual, even exists. But I do think that a scientific attitude of open-mindedness, and not denying the existence of things, whose existence we cannot scientifically disprove, should lead us to reflect humbly on the possibilities, and on how much we really don"t know.

I believe that when people happen to find themselves together, and in deep communication, there is some reason for it. It was once explained to me that when two people, upon first meeting, suddenly find themselves deeply communicating with one another, they are not having a new conversation, but continuing a conversation from a previous life. I cannot say that this idea is certainly true. But with a scientific, "evidence based" approach, we must admit we have no grounds for rejecting it either. Something lead Erin, myself, Manoj and a few other Indians, to come together in this Mystical Network. It will be interesting to learn who else are connected with us.


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