On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the occasion of their general assembly. He emphasized to the group that human dignity must be protected as an "inalienable right" and that ethical decisions cannot be left solely to the State, which is subject to "relativistic drift."
The theme of this year's general assembly was "Bioethics and Natural Law," for which the Holy Father offered his own reflections. He spoke to the academy members in the Clementine Room in the Apostolic Palace.
When we speak of bioethics, said the Pope, the "dignity of the person" is often put at the forefront of the discussion. This is "a fundamental principle that the faith in Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen, has always defended, especially when it is disregarded towards the simplest and most vulnerable subjects."
Benedict XVI called the right to recognition of human dignity "inalienable"and added that its establishment is not "written by the hand of man, but... by God the Creator in the heart of man."
"Without the founding principle of human dignity it would be arduous to find a source for the rights of the person and impossible to reach an ethical judgment as to the achievements of science that intervene directly in human life."
He insisted that it is of upmost importance that the comprehension of human dignity not be considered as strictly tied to "external elements" such as scientific progress or the "gradualness" of the formation of human life. Rather, the invocation of dignity must be "full, total and without strings, besides that of recognizing that we are always before a human life."
The key of ethical research and investigation in science regarding human beings is to never consider that one is only dealing with "inanimate material," he continued. To do otherwise risks an “instrumental use of science,” which easily advances “abuse, discrimination and the economic interests of the strongest."
Pope Benedict observed that in the world today, the rights of human life in its"natural development and in states of greatest weakness" are not always recognized. This, he said, makes it important to promote human life as an "inalienable subject of right and never as an object subjected to abuse of the strongest."
"History has shown how dangerous and deleterious a State that proceeds to make legislation on matters that touch the person and society can be, when it tries to be the source and beginning of ethics."
Without universal principles that establish a "common denominator" for humanity, explained the Pope, we run the risk of a "relativistic drift at the legislative level."
However, he stated, the natural moral law “permits us to avoid this danger and, above all, offers the legislator the guarantee for a true respect for the person." It also "affirms the existence of an order printed in nature by the Creator and recognized as an instance of true, rational ethical judgment to pursue good and avoid evil."
Members of the Pontificial Academy for Life were led in the general assembly by their acpresident, Archbishop Rino Fisichella.