When is it good to know?
As a medical researcher I have to consider many ethical aspects of my research. In particular I am interested in being able to predict brain development from an early age. This may help us to predict who will have brain damage due to preterm birth, for example, or even if you might develop a mental illness in the next 20 years.
But as with most things in science, all I could possibly give is a probability. This raises an important ethical issue – when do we tell people of the risk?
It is not as simple as you might think. There are often cases where diseases are currently incurable, affect your mind, and are eventually fatal. Would you want to know that this is happening?
Then there are the cases where the risk is low, but the consequence is high – would you want to know if you had a 10% chance of dying from an incurable cancer in 20 years? What if the risk was 50%? There are so many risk factors for so many diseases, each contributing little by little.
Even worse, you can’t ask someone whether they would want to know. And if you tell them, they can’t choose to unlearn their risk. There is an enormous grey area in determining whether the psychological damage of knowing about future suffering would be better or worse than not letting them know. This is particularly difficult when it is a fatal disease.
Would you want to know when you are going to die?
If I were to die tomorrow…
Knowledge of future suffering, such as risk of disease, is more or less valuable depending on what it lets us do. Knowledge is best placed when it can be coupled with action. Let’s think of an example.
Imagine if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, no matter what. How would you feel? Helpless? Abandoned? Afraid? Would you want to know?
Now imagine you know how to prevent yourself from dying tomorrow. How do you feel? Hopeful? Comforted? Empowered? Would you want to know?
I believe it is pretty clear that knowledge of future suffering is only beneficial with clear opportunity to avoid that suffering. I wouldn’t want to know if I was going to die tomorrow, unless I could act on that knowledge.
We are all going to die
Christians may think they face a similar dilemma. Do we tell others the Good News and preach the Bible? What if others don’t want to hear it, or once they hear it wish they didn’t? In fact, most people I know don’t want to be preached to.
However, this is not a convenient excuse not to preach to others. As Christians we are not disabled by fear and knowledge of future suffering. We are not powerless pawns of fate, destined to meet our ultimate demise.
We have the hope, comfort and empowerment of Christ. Our lives, and the lives of others can be saved by a simple action. Asking for forgiveness.
I would want to know about Jesus
Regardless of what we die from, or what we will suffer, everyone should know Jesus. What ails all humans is not an incurable disease. Sin can be removed easier than any cancer, or healed better than any wound. Accepting Jesus into our lives is enough to prevent endless suffering in everyone who hears and accepts it.
Because Christ brings hope, we should tell everyone that we can. It isn’t easy, and is in fact very hard. But, telling someone that they will die, doesn’t begin to compare with sharing with them how they can live.
Nathanael Yates is a Neuroscience Researcher from Perth, Western Australia. He is constantly inspired by his astonishingly wise and beautiful wife and his adorable daughter.
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html
Nathanael Yates is a Neuroscience Researcher from Perth, Western Australia. He is constantly inspired by his astonishingly wise and beautiful wife and his adorable daughter.Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html