Over at the New Taoist Community's forum we have what we term "Joint reflections." Somebody comes up with a verse of the Tao Te Ching, or a question about Taoist living, and we have a go at coming up with some answers, observations or interpretations. The intention is not really to come up with something definitive, but rather the process itself helps to develop our understanding.
As part of this I came up with a thought experiment where I gave a potentially unpleasant choice to see what guidance we might find from Taoism. My question and my first attempt at answering it follow, but I suspect I'll be thinking about this for years ;-) .....
A (hopefully) hypothetical, awkward and deliberately emotive question about Taoism in real life and how your understanding would lead you to a decision on what to do...
You are a Taoist
You have a child who is dying from some medical condition
A doctor informs you that there is a new treatment available that comes from the application of cloning and gene modification techniques
Your child can be 'cured' but will then need to take drugs for the rest of their life
For the drugs to be produced, every month a human embryo has to be created in a laboratory & then destroyed during processing
OK. After a lot of thought here's what I've come up with so far. Hopefully it will make some sense. I'm not completely happy with my answer and I suspect a lot of it has lots of ego and selfishness lurking in the background somewhere
I find that breaking things down helps a lot, so here goes....
Does the death of my child matter?
To the Tao it is irrelevant. All is one. Nothing has changed.
To reality it is irrelevant. Some part has changed state but the whole is unaffected.
To the universe, the galaxy, or to the earth it is probably irrelevant.
To to the human race it is is probably irrelevant. After all according to Unicef over 26000 under-5s die from largely preventable causes every day. What does one more matter?
To the UK it probably doesn't matter - just one of many.
To my town it starts to matter. We are a small community and many people know us.
To my family and I it matters a great deal.
To my child it is everything.
However, in 100, or 1000, or 10000 years time will it still matter?
Then again - in time will whatever choice I make matter?
So in the grand scheme of things it's of no significance either way.
From Taoism I know that life, death and individuality are illusions - yet I want to "save" my child - an act of ego as much for my benefit as for the child's.
I do however believe that my child should have the chance to make its own choice, and through the treatment it will get the chance to become an adult and decide for itself - even if that choice is to stop the treatment. It will also get the opportunity to seek harmony with the Tao in the interim should that be its path. I also don't believe that my child should bear the consequences of my beliefs, but at the same time I'm aware that I can't predict the consequences of my choices. There is the potential in this for a existential nihilistic approach, because in Taoism in the end nothing we do matters - except to us - but that's not really what Taoism is trying to teach us. At the end of the day Taoism is not about what "matters", nor is it about the destination, it is about the journey.
The level of intervention seems to go against the Taoist concept of Wu Wei. A better approach from a Taoist perspective might be to follow the path where I learn to deal with loss rather than wielding all the big guns of science to intervene, but everything in my make-up tells me that the treatment would be the right thing to do - but is that Te or ego I'm listening to? So I would choose the treatment aware that it includes many contradictions and self-delusions. I would do it because I have the choice, or at least the illusion of choice, and I would prefer to continue the journey a bit further with the company of my child.
Like I say, I'm not completely happy with this answer, but it's my first attempt & any observations would be gratefully received.