Ethics-Free Genetics Is a Threat to Man´s Dignity, Pope Warns

Message to French Catholics´ Social Week

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Concerned by the onslaught of human embryo research, John Paul II warns that "today man´s dignity is threatened."



"A new temptation arises today: to arrogate to oneself the right to fix, to determine the threshold of humanity of an individual life," the Pope said in a message addressed to Michel Camdessus, president of Catholics´ Social Week in France.

The event, held in Paris from Friday to Sunday, had the theme "Biology, Medicine and Society: What Will We Do with Man?"

Dated Nov. 15, the papal message addressed to the former director general of the International Monetary Fund and current member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace was published during the meeting.

It also came on the eve of an announcement Sunday that a Massachusetts-based firm, Advanced Cell Technology Inc., had cloned the first human embryo.

The Pontiff said that, when science "experiments" with human embryos or when it "produces" them for cloning, it is managing the destiny of human persons.

"From the time the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth," the Pope stressed. "It would never be made human if it were not human already."

Modern genetics "has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person, with his characteristic aspects already well determined," the Pope continued.

"This exacts absolute respect for the human being, from his embryonic phase until the end of his life," John Paul II said.

This is a "being who cannot be considered as an object or material for experimentation. Likewise, it is necessary to treat human germinal cells with respect, in virtue of the human patrimony which they bear," the Holy Father continued.

"The hypothetical advantages for humanity or for progress in research can in no way constitute a decisive criterion of moral goodness," the Bishop of Rome warned.

A clear example of this threat, the Pope explained, is the practice, common in numerous countries, "of discarding persons with congenital handicaps, which leads to a prognosis for pre-implantation and an abusive development of the prenatal diagnosis."

This is "genuine eugenics that leads to a sort of anaesthesia of consciences, gravely wounding, in addition, persons with congenital handicaps and those who accept them," he said.

The Holy Father added: "Development of the prenatal diagnosis with selective objectives, the prognosis of pre-implantation, as well as the use, production and destruction of human embryos with the simple objective of experimentation and acquisition of stem cells constitutes grave assaults against the absolute respect for every life and against the grandeur of every human being, which does not depend on his external aspect or the ties he has with other members of society."

The Pontiff ended by asking legislators and politicians to intervene, because it is "a question that goes beyond the simple scientific sphere."

"Public authority has the duty to act in such a way that the civil law is regulated according to the fundamental norms of the moral law in everything that concerns the rights of man, of human life, and the family institution," he said.

"The future of man and of humanity in part is linked to his capacity to rigorously examine the different bioethical questions at the ethical level, without being afraid to challenge patterns of behavior that have become commonplace," John Paul II said.

He stated categorically: "The Catholic Church encourages biomedical research when it is directed to the prevention and cure of diseases, the alleviation of suffering, and man´s well-being.

"If research is carried out in a really scientific manner, following norms of morality, it will never be in conflict with faith."

At the same time, he commented, "the Church does not ignore the complexity, at times dramatic, of painful situations lived by people; likewise, it is aware of the pressures exerted by powerful economic interests."