Life Questions and the Media

Interview With Ángel Rodríguez, of Pontifical Academy for Life

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2004 ( A member of the Pontifical Academy for Life contends that bioethical topics need to be explained better and suggests that bioethicists study communications.

Monsignor Ángel Rodríguez Luño, professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expounded on his idea in this interview with ZENIT.

Q: Are you surprised that moral theologians and bioethicists are being given advice in the area of communications in order to transmit better topics relating to life?

Monsignor Rodríguez: I’m not surprised. I would be surprised, rather, by the contrary, and this is true for several reasons.

The first is that without a minimum of familiarity with the means of social communication there is the risk that people will not understand exactly what one is trying to say. And so, constant misunderstandings and incomprehension are generated.

The second, and most important, is that at present the great questions relating to life are won or lost, above all, in the field of communications.

What is human is not expressed only subjectively, in the intimacy of the personal conscience, but also objectively, on the plane of language, symbols, laws, customs, models and common objectives. It is on this plane that the categories are generated with which we think about and interpret our life and experiences.

The idea that each one retains fully a free capacity to judge and act, independent of existing laws and of the other components of «objective» humanity is simply a myth, the myth of individualism, which seems incredible even for those who adopt it as a cover to manipulate.

Q: Do these external elements condition freedom?

Monsignor Rodríguez: I do not deny individual freedom, but limit myself to explain what freedom is and how it is exercised by a being who lives in society with his fellow men.

This is very clear to those who, making use of the situation of power obtained through their communications enterprises, hope to affect our lives and society in a specific way.

Suffice it to have the patience to follow one or more topics of moral importance over a year in different newspapers, or in the most important television stations worldwide, for the reader to perceive a very precise ideology.

Q: How does this situation affect the study of ethical questions?

Monsignor Rodríguez: From the ethical point of view, what I have said above poses some challenges and problems.

I will refer only to two of them. The first is that when a moral theologian analyzes the facts of the question he is studying, he should also consider the objective human plane, which I referred to earlier.

Not in the sense of adapting himself slavishly to what is fashionable or «politically correct,» which I consider a self-censorship unworthy of a free world, but in realizing that on this plane there can be obstacles that must be addressed with a specific methodology.

A second problem refers to ethics of communications enterprises, which in my judgment must be understood, first of all, as ethical justification of the ends pursued by such enterprises, and then as ethical justification of the means employed.

Enterprises with such power to affect society cannot be regulated only by the law of the audience, by ideological, economic or party political interests and, in general, by interests which cannot be presented to public opinion with total clarity.

Fortunately, there are many businessmen and communications professionals who, in their activity, sincerely seek the truth, but this is not always the case.

It should be noted that no one is denied the legitimacy of constituting himself in a «lobby,» but they must do so with transparency, and not present as exigencies of truth, freedom, health, right, equality, etc., what are and cannot cease to be personal interests, which are almost always debatable.

Nor does it seem illegitimate to me to defend ideological or political positions, so long as it is done honestly. In the face of a clear proposal, the reader or television viewer feels himself called to discern.

Hidden or manipulative ideologies do not elicit critical discernment, but succeed through deceit or fail because the deceit is recognized.

Q: Is the emphasis the Church puts on bioethics something new?

Monsignor Rodríguez: In a certain sense yes, and in a certain sense no.

It is new in the sense that in the 18th century, for example, the Church did not see herself obliged to address bioethical questions such as today’s, given that at that time, such questions either did not arise or they were given little importance.

It is not new in the sense that both the Church as well as theology have been concerned with the issues that the faithful have had to be concerned with in each historical period.

This was the case with the Industrial Revolution and the economic and social problems derived from it; then with the totalitarianisms, the problems posed by progress in medicine, etc.

Today we are faced with the genetic revolution and the manipulation of life, which is not a purely medical question.

Large international enterprises invest in biotechnologies and genetic engineering.

Again a problem arises that should also be analyzed from the point of view of business ethics, which refers not only to questions such as patents, but above all to the ethical justification of the ends that are really pursued and the social and human impact of certain activities, obviously not excluding consideration of the morality of the means.

Leaving abstract considerations to one side, I have serious doubts that individuals or competent enterprises can decide to reach truly just ends through unjust means.

No one wants to put out a fire through means that fuel and spread it.

Q: Do you think that religions share a common ground on life issues that would allow them to work together?

Monsignor Rodríguez: Life is, without a doubt, an area of common interest. My opinion is that the problems that at present are an object of concern are not directly regulated by religion.

They must be the object of juridical, social and political regulation and, above all, of self-regulation by the personal conscience of doctors, researchers, proprietors and executives of medical clinics, etc., and communication enterprises, etc.

Perhaps, what corresponds to religion is to confirm and defend the integrity, sanity and human wisdom of consciences.

To the degree that our technical power increases, so must the wisdom and rectitude necessary to put it at the service of personal and social good.

The direct or indirect contribution of religions to that greater wisdom might be, perhaps, a good point of dialogue.

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