"Human Embryo Is One of Us"

Lawyer Comments on Papal Request

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MILAN, Italy, FEB. 5, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- The human embryo is one of us — and this fact might shed light on the debate on the legal status of human life in its initial stage, says an expert in bioethics and law.

Francesco D´Agostino, honorary president of the Italian Bioethics Commission, was commenting on John Paul II´s request Sunday for legal recognition of the human embryo.

Q: What prospects does the Pope´s request have?

D´Agostino: The problem of the human embryo is much more than merely legal: It is an ontological and ethical question that is at the root of the greatest spiritual laceration of our time, incapable of recognizing the absolute value of life.

In this connection, it is most important, but it is not in itself sufficient that the law formally recognize the embryo´s subjectivity; it is necessary that this recognition be founded on and presuppose the full substantial awareness that embryonic life is authentic human life, and that it must be protected like any other human life.

Starting from this recognition which, I repeat, is at the same time ontological and ethical, lawyers must begin to work to discern the most appropriate legal techniques that offer a social dimension.

Q: This proposal was anticipated by the pro-life movement a long time ago.

D´Agostino: The proposal of the pro-life movement is only justified and explained if one sees how much the defense of life has been weakened in our cultural climate.

Until the approval of abortifacient legislation and progress in biomedicine — which placed before us realities like frozen, manipulated, destroyed, purchased and sold embryos — the protection of new life was fully guaranteed; there was no need to fight to give legal status to the embryo.

The fact that this battle is now on and that there is an appeal for the intervention of an absolutely innovative legal norm, reflects to what point and with what speed the scientific and cultural context, in which we live, is changing.

Q: The Pope´s request has had strong resonance.

D´Agostino: Certainly. The Pope´s fundamental concern is not technical-juridical but evangelical: The defense of life is the constitutive element of the Christian message, not the legal subjectivity of embryos.

The claim that each human being from conception — not just simply from the moment of birth — must be considered a subject of the law might impress public opinion and make everyone reflect on the fact that life must always be defended with passion.

Q: The news of manipulated embryos, rented wombs, is multiplying. Would it be different if the embryo had legal status?

D´Agostino: It is what the promoters of the pro-life movement want, and it is what I also hope for. However, it is difficult to foresee the infinite concrete situations that would be created. In order to resolve many of them, I do not think that the mere recognition of the legal status of the embryo is sufficient.

A good law is needed on assisted procreation, which imposes strict limitations on the many practices of manipulation and commercialization of new life, which today, unfortunately, are very frequent.

I continue to think that the proposal of the pro-life movement is valuable not because it is able to resolve miraculously and once and for all so many bioethical questions, but because it is the bearer of a simple but symbolically high and strong message: The human embryo is one of us.

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