Recognizing that the field of genetics contains both signs of promise and peril, the Vatican is hosting a congress this Friday and Saturday to examine the burgeoning field. "The aim of this congress is to verify whether, in the field genetic experimentation, there are aspects that tend towards - or effectively implement - eugenic practices," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella.
The February 20-21 congress is entitled, "New frontiers of genetics and the dangers of eugenics," and is being promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life. The gathering is being held as academy’s twenty- fifth general assembly and will take place in the Vatican's New Synod Hall.
Organizers held a press conference at the Vatican’s press office today to discuss the purpose of the event. Participating in today's presentation were Archbishop Rino Fisichella and Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, respectively president and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Bruno Dallapiccola, professor of genetic medicine at Rome's "La Sapienza" University.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained that the congress will bring together scientists from "a number of universities" to examine genetics from numerous angles: from "the strictly biomedical to the legal; from the philosophical and theological to the sociological."
"Thanks to the great work undertaken over the last ten years, above all that of Francis Collins on the Human Genome Project, it is possible to map thousands of genes and thus achieve an understanding of various types of disease; this often offers a real possibility of overcoming heredity ailments," the archbishop said.
"The aim of this congress," the president of the Academy for Life explained, "is to verify whether, in the field genetic experimentation, there are aspects that tend towards - or effectively implement - eugenic practices." Such practices "find expression in various scientific, biological, medical, social and political projects, all of them more or less interrelated. These projects require an ethical judgment, especially when it is sought to suggest that eugenic practices are being undertaken in the name of a 'normality' of life to offer to individuals."
Archbishop Fisichella also pointed out that some people have adopted a "reductive" mentality that "tends to consider that some people are less valuable than others, either because of the conditions in which they live, such as poverty or lack of education, or because of their physical state, for example the disabled, the mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease."
"Not always do the requirements of medical science meet with the approval philosophers or theologians," said the archbishop. "If, on the one hand, certain people frequently succumb to the temptation to consider the body in purely material terms, on the other, a concern to ensure the fundamental unity of each individual ... is something that must not be marginalized or overlooked."
"Of course research aimed at alleviating individual suffering must increase and develop," he concluded, "yet at the same time we are called to ensure the increase and development of an ethical conscience, without which all achievements would remain limited and incomplete."