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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession III: Biology, medicine, and the future of mankind
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View the documentIntroduction
View the documentReport on session III
Open this folder and view contentsLa maîtrise de la vie: Pour quoi faire?
Open this folder and view contentsRestructuring a framework for assessment of science and technology as a driving power for social development: a biosociological approach
Open this folder and view contentsHuman aspects of medical sciences: Medical technology and the responsibility of the physician

Report on session III

Gregory Blue

Three position papers were presented and discussion followed.

Dr. Ribes summarized some major points of his paper, "La Maiise de la Vie: Pour Quoi Faire?" First of all, he treated two aspects of modern biological research: the necessity of advancing current knowledge, and the problems entailed in this advance. Research is necessarily pushed forward by broad demands for the improvement of life, e.g., for improvement of industrial and agricultural production, for health care at individual and national levels, and by problems concerning genetic factors at the international level. Nevertheless, research and the application of research results are often carried out despite fundamental ignorance, on our part, concerning the global effects of our interventions - certain drugs, for example, have immediate side-effects, others can affect genetic structures. The question thus arises: should we do all that we have the power to do, or should we first try to overcome our ignorance?

The second part of the presentation dealt with the question: "What is Life?" It was stressed that life is not simply a totality of regulated chemical elements, but rather an evolving dynamic. This evolution has two aspects: towards individual perfection and towards "depassment" of the individual and liberation from necessity. The principal factor in the second aspect is an openness to other living beings, already evident in sexuality and showing that life itself is relation.

It is now important to reinforce this "depassment," and this can be done according to five requirements which can be summarized as follows:

(a) stressing compatibility;

(b) learning the possibilities for open life, rather than excluding them;

(c) intensifying the relational character of openness to others;

(d) preserving the singularity of the individual; and

(e) accepting the historical character of life, for life has no sense - biological or otherwise - apart from this historical character.

Dr. Mori presented his paper entitled "Restructuring a Framework for the Assessment of Science and Technology as a Driving Power for Social Development: A Biosociological Approach." Dr. Mori extended the anthropological methods of Imanishi Kinji to contemporary power relationships, and he applied Imanishi's non-Darwinian theory of evolution in order to analyse such power relationships at the systems level. After considering the characteristics of animal societies, he maintained that what distinguishes human societies is culture, i.e., conscious control of nature and appropriation of surplus in order to raise living standards. Science and technology were portrayed as cultural phenomena; and modern science and technology were presented as having two distinct components, viz., universal general principles and cultural elements. Because modern science developed in Europe it is natural for problems, due to the specifically European cultural elements, to arise when modern science and technology are transferred to other cultures. It is thus necessary to analyse the needs which modern science/technology are meant to fulfill within another culture, if they are to be successfully rooted into it.

Science and technology at the global level seem today to have lost their power as forces for the constructive transformation of the world, and this is because the global hierarchical structures of political power have reached a level at which they are blocking general human development. Among other things, this has serious repercussions upon social and physiological time-sensitivity.

The third position paper was that of Dr. Rakic entitled "Medical Technology and Its Effects." It was presented by Dr. Milanovic. The paper dealt with human relations in the field of medicine. Emphasis was placed on problems inherent in current specialization in medical research, which tends to preclude an integral approach to health care and which simultaneously leads to lack of specificity in dealing with the problems of any given individual. At the same time, the medical knowledge of most people is left at a fairly low level. And hence impersonal and bureaucratic relations tend to prevail in the doctor-patient relationship. On the one hand, there is the patient, who doesn't know what's happening to him but who often expects more from the physician than can actually be given. On the other hand, the physician becomes a distant agent whose task is seen only as the application of specialist research. To overcome this situation it is necessary to depersonalize the doctor-patient relationship. Re-personalization can be facilitated: (1) by development within medical research of a broad multi-disciplinarily between the various medical-related sciences themselves and also between them and pertinent branches of the social sciences; (2) by keeping in mind the physical and social specificity of each patient; and (3) by promoting general medical education for the general population, and for each patient in regard to his own case.

Furthermore, the medical profession as a whole should become involved in self-regulation and should take a critical attitude to the results of medical practice; and the concept of the physician's ethical responsibility must be broadened, so as to take into account both the needs of scientific progress and the needs of the local, national, and international communities.

In the discussion several themes were developed.

1. It was strongly questioned whether Dr. Mori's attempt to apply a biosociological approach to contemporary human problems is valid. There was divergence about whether such an approach leads to illusions about reconciling irreconcilable forces in the political sphere, or whether it can aid in constructing a non-confrontational model for dealing with problems.

It was pointed out that the distortion of social time-sensibility is an extremely great problem, which is leading to a generation gap on a world scale. Productivism tends to destroy people's collective memories and hence to make impossible a collective present.

2. It was pointed out that transformation of existing medical relations must involve a clear understanding of the role of the transnational pharmaceutical companies. It was also said that physicians must choose between serving these companies or serving the real needs of the people.

3. In regard to medical practice, it is necessary to keep in mind the mutual interaction between the individual human organism and the external environment. Many types of disease are impossible to cure without a previous transformation of external physical or social conditions. In such a situation, it is extremely misleading to think that medical success can be attained at the level of the individual alone.

4. It is incorrect to consider science and technology as panaceas for all problems, as independent and isolated from other factors in the world. It was observed that the majority of technological advances since 1945 have been consequences of the armaments race and that this race now dominates technological advance. It is true, thus, that science and technology are sources of power in the present transformation of the world, but they must be viewed within the full context of global power relations.

5. It was observed that, since 1947, the greatest overall growth in the world has taken place in the underdeveloped countries, and that this growth has for the most part occurred in industrial production, whereas growth in the developed world has mostly occurred in the service sectors.

6. It was said that the negative effects of industrial techniques are only inevitable so long as there is no social control over them. Also, it is necessary to take into account all aspects of transformation planning: e.g., it is absurd to promote schemes for "rural development" which ignore subsequent urban over-crowding, etc.