Human Embryo Threatened by Legal Chaos, Says Forum

Conclusions of Bioethics Meeting in Brussels

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, OCT. 22, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The human embryo is caught in the cross fire between medical reality and legal chaos, an international bioethics forum concluded.



Some 600 people, many of them youths, attended the two-day forum here, which ended Sunday. Medicine and the Dignity of Man, an international association that originated in France, organized the meeting.

The objective of the forum, as well as that of the association, is to "promote a medical ethic founded on the principles of the dignity of the human being and of respect for every human life" (see www.theembryo.com).

Biomedicine questions itself

During the forum, a group of scientists and doctors addressed the biomedical questions arising from procedures on the human embryo.

Paulina Taboada, a physician with a doctorate in philosophy, of the International Academy of Liechtenstein, sized up the current debate on "therapeutic" cloning -- the creation of embryos for medical use or experimentation -- and reproductive cloning.

The biomedical analysis, she explained, concludes that "the only difference between the two cases consists in the evolution of the embryo's life or in its manipulation."

"The ethical questions that are posed in regard to reproductive cloning must also be applied to therapeutic cloning," she concluded.

Professor Giuseppe Noia, gynecologist at the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, offered scientific data on embryonic and adult stem cells and on their use to regenerate different tissues, and advocated a new scientific possibility: xenotransplants, namely, the use of animal organs.

Dr. Catherine Sibille of the Center of Human Genetics of the Catholic University of Leuven explained that "prenatal diagnoses, increasingly systematic, are an extraordinary advance in research to know and detect certain illnesses better, but at the same time they open the way to eugenic selection."

Philippe Anthonioz, professor of embryology of the University Hospital Center of Tours, in France, addressed the question of the status of filiation of the human clone. Biologically, whose child is the cloned embryo? he asked.

Noting that the very early life of the embryo gives it its immense capacity for transformation, the professor said, "I don't speak of 'embryos' but of 'embryonic children.'"

Legal aspects

A group of eminent European jurists, including Guy de Vel, director general of Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe, addressed the legal questions that affect the human embryo. They stated that the documents of the Council of Europe, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the legislation of various nations cause "legal chaos."

Blumberg Mokri, lawyer of Paris' Court of Appeal, said: "We can appreciate that, as opposed to what happens in other fields of law, the legislative practice both in France, as well as at the regional European level, consists in establishing rules of protection around the human embryo, even before being able to offer a definition of this protected interest."

For Carlo Casini, member of the Italian National Bioethics Committee, the "legal chaos" cannot continue because of the serious consequences it will have at the level of the definition of human rights.

"Europe is not just a market and competition; it is also a privileged legal area of the rights of man," Casini emphasized.

Ethical questions

Lastly, the forum addressed ethical questions related to the human embryo.

Father Gonzalo Miranda, professor and dean of the School of Bioethics of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, explained that from the moment of fertilization, each cell interacts with other cells, in the reality of the unique character of the new human being. This is the beauty of maternity, he said.

Also on hand was Dr. Xavier Mirabel, French cancer specialist and president of the Collective Against Handiphobia, a group that fights for rights for the disabled.

Mirabel described the symptoms of a society full of anxieties in which the least risk of disability among the unborn leads to the selective elimination of embryos. Since it is not possible to treat Down syndrome children in the womb, he said, the little ones are simply eliminated.

For her part, Martha Tarasco Michel, professor of the School of Bioethics of the University of Anahuac in Mexico, spoke about the narcissistic projection of parents in the unborn child, which promotes the "myth of the perfect child."

At the end of the congress, Elizabeth Bourgois, president of Medicine and the Dignity of Man, presented the forum's final resolutions, which state: "Even before constituting a problem of civil and penal law, respect for the human being is above all an exigency of civilization."

Because of this, the participants appealed to the European Union and its member states to take "the indispensable legislative measures to defend, protect and promote every human person, ensuring his/her protection with the law from his/her conception."

In the second place, they request that the legislation prohibit "every form of manipulation of the human embryo, its cloning, destruction or mutilation."

Forum participants "are opposed to the subsidizing of research that, systematically manipulating human embryos, violates in them the dignity of humanity."

They commit themselves "to favor urgently all research on stem cells, but only if they are adult stem cells."

Lastly, they "commit themselves to favor research on the treatment of genetic diseases without destroying or mutilating sick embryos."

At the opening of the congress, Archbishop Luigi Celata, apostolic nuncio in Belgium, read a message from John Paul II, in which he expressed the hope that the initiative would contribute to "enlighten consciences so that the dignity of the human being will be fully respected from his/her conception."