Book Review: Playing God by Tony Watkins

Book Review: Playing God by Tony Watkins

“As playing-godadvances in technology push back the boundaries of the possible, are we losing sight of the question of whether it is right to do everything that science makes possible? From (premature) birth to (endlessly delayed) death, more and more decisions have to be made. How can Christians find a way through the moral minefield that new technology presents, and how can we talk about these things in a way that helps, rather than browbeats, our friends? Playing God: Talking About Ethics in Medicine and Technology (Damaris, 2006) begins to help readers think about these questions by engaging with recent films, books and television programmes.”

I always want to recommend this book as Chapter 6 is the first piece of printed work for which I was ever paid. I came across Damaris, the organisation behind this book, whilst trying to understand The Matrix, for which they’d written a study guide.

Damaris’s website says of their approach to culture: “Damaris has a great respect for contemporary popular culture and believes that it is an expression of people’s search for answers to fundamental questions. Damaris engages in rigorous study of its content and context in order to identify, understand and respond to the underlying world views with integrity.”

I’ve written a few reviews for them, and I was offered this or science fiction! As a long-time (past) watcher of Casualty, I loved this idea, and was commissioned to write a chapter on how Doctors have ‘played God’ on TV. I chose to cover this over time, concluding the chapter with the following:

Jacobs notes that the phrase ‘You can’t play God’ is often seen in television dramas, and, ‘has become a mantra of lowered expectations of doctors’ abilities. If a doctor sees him/herself as God, this is seen as arrogant and overconfident, and not conducive to being a good doctor. In fact doctors like this – ER’s Robert ‘Rocket’ Romano (Paul McCrane), for example – are often perceived as a toxic presence. TV dramas’ portrayal of the fallibility of both technology and humans, and the arrogance of doctors who think they always know best, should remind Christians that we can but trust in God’s higher purposes. This was illustrated by Christian doctor Andrew Collin (Andrew Lancel) in Cardiac Arrest. He believes that God has given him access to a ‘bigger picture’, as so is able to respect the wishes of a Jehovah’s Witness not to be given a blood transfusion, despite a colleague then accusing him of ‘playing God’. He rejects this saying ‘You don’t understand because you don’t believe in anything’. (pp104-5)

Arising particularly out of topical debates about the use of technology in medicine/euthanasia (noticeably Terri Shiavo), other chapters focus on a Biblical approach to medical ethics, ethics in film (Vera Drake/Million Dollar Baby), genetic manipulation, a study of I, Robot, plus a couple of study guides including Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper where the new child provides body parts for the ill.

Prepared for use as an Oak Hall Leader.

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