Media Criticized for Blind Spot on Bioethical Issues

Archbishop Foley Cites Reporting on Stem Cell Research and Euthanasia

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2001 ( Medical breakthroughs are not always respectful of human life, and journalists need to say so, warned an international conference on “Health and Power.”

Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, was the Catholic Church´s spokesman for this concern at the three-day conference. The conference, an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, ended Saturday.

In his address Friday to the gathering of scientists, doctors, theologians, specialists and university professors, held in the Vatican´s synodal hall, the archbishop pointed to stem-cell research and euthanasia as examples.

In both these cases, the archbishop said, the media have not always respected “the inviolable and inalienable rights of the weak in the womb or near the tomb.”

Archbishop Foley pointed out some principles that must direct the conduct of the media when it comes to medical questions.

He emphasized the need to “have journalists who are prepared not only in medical technology, but also in moral philosophy.”

Journalists must understand that “not every technological breakthrough is necessarily a moral triumph; thus, do readers the favor of subjecting technological advances to valid moral criticism,” the archbishop said.

He reminded his audience “that the media in the mid-20th century were not afraid to identify certain forms of medical experimentation as atrocities.”

Perhaps, the archbishop said, “such reporting was made easier because the experiments were often sponsored by hostile powers on helpless prisoners of war or on innocent civilians kept in concentration camps.”

“Such experiments are still going on, however, on embryos which are destroyed so that research can take place and, as some media have occasionally reported, on human ´guinea pigs´ who may sometimes not realize that their rights are being violated, or who have not been able to give informed consent,” the archbishop confirmed.

Echoing the study on “Ethics in Communication,” published by the Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Foley highlighted three principles:

–“First, it is necessary to know the truth — scientific, economic and moral — about medical discoveries and health care policies;

–“Second, the rights of those who are suffering, and especially the inviolable right to life, must be treated as paramount;

–“Third, the implications for the common good, and not merely the economic profit for a few, must be considered.”

“Thus, the media coverage of the sick and of those who care for them should not only inform our minds, but also touch our hearts to unleash, in the service of the poor and sick, what the late Mother Teresa rightly identified as the power of love,” Archbishop Foley concluded.

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