The Vatican is organizing a bioethics conference on the origin and development of the human embryo.
The conference will take place November 15-17. It is part of a program called "Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest." A Vatican teaching and research program involving six pontifical universities, the endeavor was created in 2003 to further explore the relationship between science and faith.
The conference is a response to current debates about embryonic stem cells, cloning, genetic manipulation, and assisted fertility treatments. These debates often overlook the crucial origin of organisms.
"The study of human life from the point of view of its individual origin acquires a particular interest in today's world," said the Reverend Rafael Pascual, dean of the philosophy department at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, the university hosting the conference.
The head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, was asked if in the scope of its research, the Vatican would entertain scientific views that differed from its own regarding the origin of life.
He said that in research, there must always be respect paid between two sides but at the same time each side must hold fast to its beliefs without compromise.
Catholic teaching has long condemned abortion, and in recent decades has spoken in defense of the ethical treatment of human embryos as technologies advance. Taking into account considerable scientific evidence and theological considerations, Catholic teaching holds that human life begins at conception.