Cardinal George welcomes new Vatican bioethics document


Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has welcomed the new Vatican document on bioethics for considering the “profound ethical implications” related to procreation and the integrity of marriage.

The document, Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), is an Instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that was published on Friday.

Noting “some anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance,” the document praises the creativity of scientific inquiry and technological advances. It also discusses ethical problems in procreation technologies and the new procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and “the human genetic patrimony,” such as cloning.

Dignitas Personae also advocates respect for the human being from the moment of his or her conception and declares that the origin of human life “has its authentic context in marriage and the family.”

“We welcome the Instruction as theologians, medical personnel, researchers and married couples consider new scientific and medical procedures that have profound ethical implications bearing upon the procreation of children and the integrity of marriage,” Cardinal George said in a December 12 statement.

“We applaud developments which advance medical progress with respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception,” the cardinal stated.

On the other hand, the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference said, “We oppose discarding or manipulating innocent lives to benefit future generations, or promoting the creation of new human life in depersonalized ways that substitute for the loving union between a husband and wife.”

According to the cardinal, behind every ‘no’ in ethical argument “there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.”

He noted both the Vatican document’s approval of fertility treatments which successfully re-establish the “normal function of human procreation” and its praise for “stem cell research and therapies that respect the inherent dignity of the human person.”

Among the topics considered, the instruction addresses the difficulties faced by researchers and families in the proposed use of unethically obtained cells and tissues, such as vaccines which used tissue derived from abortions.

While researchers have a duty to distance themselves and their work from unjust situations, “Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’,” the document says.

“Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccine available.”

The document does not reject embryo adoption outright but warns of its associated medical, psychological and legal problems, and also emphasizes the moral wrong of producing and freezing human embryos.

Dignitas Personae also rules that drugs and devices used to prevent the implantation of the embryo involve the sin of abortion, since the embryo is a human person.

On the matter of gene therapy, the document says “procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit.” It warns against “germ line” gene therapy which would affect all of a person’s cells, including his or her reproductive cells.

In its current state, gene therapy experimentation has massive and unacceptable risks and involves manipulating human embryos in the laboratory, the Vatican document warns.

“It is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny,” it states, also warning against “designer babies,” seeing in such genetic engineering a “eugenic mentality” that would divide humanity based on arbitrary and questionable criteria of human worth.

The creation of human/animal hybrid embryos was also touched on. The Instruction calls them “an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man.”

It also warned against technological ideologies that seek to usurp God’s role in creation.

“In stating the ethical negativity of these kinds of interventions which imply an unjust domination of man over man, the church also recalls the need to return to an attitude of care for people and of education in accepting human life in its concrete historical finite nature,” the document insists.

It closes with an affirmation of modern science and technology, saying that, through them, man “participates in the creative power of God and is called to transform creation” in service to the dignity of all human beings.

Dignitas Personae is intended to build upon Donum Vitae, a 1987 CDF document on reproductive technologies and embryo experimentation.

To read a summary of the document please visit:

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