Church Calls for More Biomedical Scientists

Wants Benefits of Research to Reach the Poor

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2008 ( Far from discouraging scientific research, the Church is expressing its hope that many Christians dedicate themselves to biomedicine and that the results of such research can also be used to benefit the poor.

This is one of the affirmations in a Sept. 8 document released today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and titled «Dignitas Personae.»

The document is an update of the 1987 instruction «Donum Vitae,» and aims to provide responses to «new bioethical questions,» thereby contributing in the formation of conscience and the encouragement of biomedical research that respects the «dignity of every human being and of procreation.»

The instruction has three parts: «The first recalls some anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance; the second addresses new problems regarding procreation; the third examines new procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and the human genetic patrimony.»

The first part of the document outlines two fundamental principles: Firstly, that the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception, with the consequent respect of his or her rights. Secondly, the authentic context for the origin of human life is in marriage and the family.

Down to detail

Parts two and three of the document consider various procedures and techniques, giving an explanation and evaluation of each one.

It first looks at new problems concerning procreation, where it considers techniques for assisting fertility, in vitro fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, the freezing of embryos and oocytes, the so-called reduction of embryos, pre-implantation diagnosis, and new forms of interception and contragestation.

«In the face of this manipulation of the human being in his or her embryonic state, it needs to be repeated that God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person,» the document states. «God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness.»

In this section, for example, the Vatican congregation encourages «research and investment directed at the prevention of sterility.» It also urges openness to adoption so that «many children who lack parents may receive a home.»

On the other hand, it considers a «situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved»: the thousands of frozen embryos who are «left over» from in vitro fertilization processes.

Citing Pope John Paul II, the document laments that «there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.»

Preimplantation diagnosis is another morally problematic issue, the instruction explains.

«Unlike other forms of prenatal diagnosis, […] diagnosis before implantation is immediately followed by the elimination of an embryo suspected of having genetic or chromosomal defects, or not having the sex desired, or having other qualities that are not wanted. Preimplantation diagnosis […] is directed toward the qualitative selection and consequent destruction of embryos, which constitutes an act of abortion.»

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also explained that so-called contraception methods that act after fertilization fall within the category of abortion.

«Even if such interceptives may not cause an abortion every time they are used, also because conception does not occur after every act of sexual intercourse, it must be noted, however, that ‘anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion.'»

«In the case of contragestatives what takes place in reality is the abortion of an embryo which has just implanted […] the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral.»

Manipulating people

The document’s third part regards the manipulation of the embryo or human genetic patrimony. This section considers such issues as human cloning, the use of stem cells, attempts at making human-animal hybrids, and the use of «biological material» of illicit origin, such as aborted fetuses.

In the instruction’s look at stem cells, it affirms that methods «which do not cause serious harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit.»

But, «the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo […] invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit.»

In any case, the document recalled, numerous studies «have shown that adult stem cells give more positive results than embryonic stem cells.»

In the document’s consideration of the use of human «biological material» of illicit origin, it notes that «experimentation on human embryos ‘constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.'»

However, the document notes that sometimes grave reasons «may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material.'»

«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 that their health care system make other types of vaccines available.»

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