Leading article: Pause to wonder at these modern miracles

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The Independent Culture
THE SORT of thing that was a big story 2,000 years ago is now a medical commonplace. Today we report a breakthrough in the cure of the most common form of blindness. Early results from trials suggest that there is hope for those suffering macular degeneration, a wearing-out of the retina which affects many people over the age of 60. Yesterday we reported the analysis of likely trends in medicine in the next 50 years, from the publishers of the British Medical Journal. They include artificial wombs, the transplant of pigs' nerve cells to treat Parkinson's disease, and electronic chips implanted in the body.

The changes in medical technology over the past 50 years - since the founding of the National Health Service - have been astonishing enough. Hip replacement is now a routine operation. The same applies to heart bypass. The development of anti-depressants has transformed the quality of life for thousands. Advances in scanning and microsurgery have reduced the need for invasive treatment. IVF is now considered a right of infertile couples.

Of course, the pace of these developments puts great pressure on the funding of the NHS, and poses serious ethical challenges of prioritising and rationing. So far we have muddled through - in terms of both resources and ethics - although the new technology of genetic manipulation does, in fact, take us far beyond the dilemmas of today, into a genuinely brave new world. But surely the important point is to retain some of the sense of wonder that attended biblical miracles. Research scientists, the medical profession, the drugs companies and the NHS have served us outstandingly well in the past half-century, and not all of them have received much thanks.

Nowadays, if someone in a white coat told us "take up thy bed and walk", we should be inclined to believe them.