Thursday, February 21st, 2008
At the end of January, Pope Benedict gave an address to plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The full text of the speech is now available in English on the Vatican website.
His remarks on bioethics were near the end of the address:
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I also ask you, dear friends, to pay special attention to the difficult and complex issues of bioethics.
In fact, new biomedical technologies, do not only involve certain specialized doctors and researchers but are disseminated through the modern means of social communication, giving rise to expectations and questions in ever broader sectors of society. The Church’s Magisterium certainly cannot and ought not address every scientific innovation, but has the task of reaffirming the important values at stake and of suggesting to the faithful and to all people of good will the ethical and moral principles and guidelines for new and important issues. The two fundamental criteria for moral discernment in this field are: a) unconditional respect for the human being as a person from conception to natural death; b) respect for the originality of the transmission of human life through the acts proper to spouses. After the publication in 1987 of the Instruction Donum Vitae which spelled out these criteria, many levelled criticism at the Magisterium of the Church for being an obstacle to science and to the true progress of humanity. However, the new problems associated, for example, with the freezing of human embryos, with embryonic reduction [selective abortion of medically implanted embryos], with pre-implantational diagnosis, with research on embryonic stem cells and with attempts at human cloning, clearly show that with extra-corporeal artificial fertilization, the barrier that served to protect human dignity has been violated. When human beings, in the weakest and most defenceless stage of their lives are selected, abandoned, killed or used as mere “biological material”, how can it be denied that they are no longer being treated as “someone” but rather as “something”, hence, calling into question the very concept of human dignity?
Of course, the Church appreciates and encourages the progress of the biomedical sciences which open up unprecedented therapeutic prospects until now unknown, for example, through the use of somatic stem cells, or treatment that aims to restore fertility or cure genetic diseases. At the same time, she feels duty-bound to enlighten all consciences to the only authentic progress, namely, that scientific progress truly respect every human being, whose personal dignity must be recognized since he is created in the image of God. The study of these themes, which has involved your Assembly in a special way in these days, will certainly help to encourage the formation of the consciences of a large number of our brethren, in accordance with what the Second Vatican Council stated in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae: “In forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself” (n. 14).