The President's Council on Bioethics recently delivered a report called "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness." The panel defined the pursuit of happiness this way: "We want to give our children the best start in life and every chance to succeed. We want to perform at our best, and better than we did before. We want to remain youthful and vigorous for as long as we can. We want to face life optimistically and with proper self-regard."
After examining the current technological and pharmaceutical tools available to achieve these ends and the ethical issues they raise, the panel made the telling comment that as these methods develop and become available, "what would have been last year's satisfaction will only fuel this year's greater hunger for more."
No one argues against better health, more energy, less stress, less hair loss, better concentration at work or at school, or freedom from depression. The pursuit of happiness is normal, key to our well-being. The question is, How do we pursue happiness? And can it come in a form that is genuinely satisfying and effective?
A recent New York Times article commented on issues related to the council's study: "Even children know from the television that if you are sad and worried, there is a pill for you. If you have heartburn there is a pill for you. It is a lot harder to find out that there are other ways to feel better, physically and emotionally, than taking drugs" (April 6).
Combining the growing reliance on drugs with other technological advances in genetics and cloning brings up the same question that was raised thousands of years ago in the Bible. Addressing God, the writer of Psalm 8 asked, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?"
The varied answers the Bible provides show that the search for understanding has been going on for centuries. A significant insight is given in Ecclesiastes: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (7:29).
The view of our uprightness, our natural goodness, and our access to health was evident throughout Jesus' life and works. He embodied a spiritual view of life that gave health and happiness to others. He restored sight to a man who was born blind, he healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for many years, he delivered another man from leprosy. Is it imaginable that any of these people had had a happier day in their life?
Happiness based on drug therapy is temporary and raises the question, Is this really happiness? or the effect of a drug? Health that's regulated by taking a drug daily is not the cure people long for. Athletic strength that comes from a drug often has the side effect of increased anger. A medicated child may make the teacher's work easier, but is it of long-term benefit to the child? Is this the best path to happiness?
Mary Baker Eddy wrote a successful book that looks at this pursuit of happiness from a spiritual basis. Throughout her early life, illness and misfortune had robbed her of happiness. And as is often the case today, these difficulties served to intensify her search. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" she wrote about her experience: "Every material dependence had failed [the author] in her search for truth; and she can now understand why, and can see the means by which mortals are divinely driven to a spiritual source for health and happiness" (page 152).
Mrs. Eddy discovered that happiness came from a more spiritual view. She strove to understand the basis of happiness, of health, of life as illustrated in Jesus' teachings. Through this, she arrived at a radical new spiritual definition of man. She wrote: "The Scriptures inform us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Matter is not that likeness." She continued: "Man is spiritual and perfect; and because he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so understood in Christian Science. Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique" (page 475).
Obviously, biotechnology is marching in a different direction, but those who are troubled by its ever more materialistic, chemical, and mechanical view of life will find much that will encourage them in a spiritual approach to these same issues.