Pope Benedict offers ethical evaluation of biomedical advances

Pope Benedict offers ethical evaluation of biomedical advances

Pope Benedict offers ethical evaluation of biomedical advances


Today Pope Benedict XVI, through the work of several Vatican congregations, weighed-in on the ethical nature of various fertility treatments, experiments with stem cells, human cloning and the creation of hybrid embryos.

The new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is the result of six years of study and deliberation on the most recent developments in the field of bio-technology.

Beginning with the words “the dignity of the person” or “Dignitas Personae,” the aim of the three-part instruction is to provide responses from the Church to new bioethical questions that didn’t exist when the Church released her last biomedical document in 1987. According to the CDF, the document seeks “both to contribute ‘to the formation of conscience’ and to encourage biomedical research respectful of the dignity of every human being and of procreation.”

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained at a press conference at the Vatican today that “Dignitas Personae” carries the weight of an official teaching of the Pope and "is of a doctrinal nature."

Archbishop Ladaria described the document as encouraging “biomedical investigation that respects the dignity of all human beings and of procreation.” While it “does not exclude diverse biomedical technology as ethically illicit,” he said, "it will probably be accused of containing too many prohibitions.

“Nevertheless, faced with this possible accusation it is necessary to emphasize that the Church feels the duty of making those without voices heard."

Also speaking at the press conference was Professor Maria Luisa Di Pietro, associate professor of Bioethics at the Sacred Heart University, Rome and President of the "Science and Life" Association.

Di Pietro noted that the new instruction from the CDF deals with techniques like assisted fertility, in vitro fertilization, the freezing of embryos and eggs, embryo reduction, and pre-implant diagnosis, among others.

As noted by Archbishop Ladaria, the Vatican finds many of the practices in use today immoral. In vitro fertilization, for example, is found to be immoral because of the “blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved.” This fact alone “vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure…leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being,” the document says.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the former president of the Pontifical Academy for Life addressed the third part of the document that deals with newly proposed therapies that involve the manipulation of the embryo or the human gene pool.

"The text holds that it is necessary," he said, "to keep in mind one fundamental distinction: theoretically, genetic therapy can be applied to somatic cells with directly therapeutic ends or to germinal cells." The current work on germinal cells is not moral because “there still does not exist a safe technique," he stressed, "because it could entail the risk of deformation in the hereditary genetic patrimony of future generations."

Bishop Sgreccia also affirmed that "the distinction between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning is untenable.”

A summary of “Dignitas Personae” can be read by clicking here or by visiting: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=784