The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith today released Dignitas Personae, a document which addresses a range of issues including stem cell therapies, embryo experimentation and infertility treatments.
It reaffirms the Vatican's existing teachings, Donum Vitae (1987) and Evangelium Vitae (1995), and addresses new bioethical questions about issues such as hybrid embryos and human cloning.
Dignitas Personae focuses on the dignity of the human embryo, and promotes biomedical research that is respectful of the dignity of every human being and procreation. Key principles it uses to determine whether new biomedical research is ethical include: "'The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from the same moment his or her rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.'" (Dignitas Personae, n.4)
"The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born 'must be the fruit of marriage'." (Dignitas Personae, n.6)
"[The Church] hopes moreover that the results of such research may also be made available in areas of the world that are poor and afflicted by disease, so that those who are most in need will receive humanitarian assistance." (Dignitas Personae, n.3)
"The Bishops of England and Wales welcome this new Instruction on bioethics," said the Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff. "It affirms the Church's support of ethical scientific research that seeks to cure disease and relieve suffering."
Dignitas Personae acknowledges the great strides biomedical research has made in the treatment of diseases and calls for more scientific development in areas such as adult stem cell research: "Methods which do not cause serious harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit. This is generally the case when tissues are taken from: a) an adult organism; b) the blood of the umbilical cord at the time of birth; c) fetuses who have died of natural causes. The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo, on the other hand, invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit" (Dignitas Personae, n. 32)
"Research initiatives involving the use of adult stem cells, since they do not present ethical problems, should be encouraged and supported." (Dignitas Personae, n. 32)
The Vatican's comments about this issue are particularly timely given recent news reports of a woman in Spain whose trachea was repaired using adult stem cells. Other promising surgeries involving adult stem cell therapies were announced last week in Hanover, Germany to help stroke victims regain movement and speech and at Imperial College London to help heart attack patients.
Archbishop Smith said: "These developments demonstrate the power of medical science and the potential of adult stem cells in curing diseases and relieving suffering," said the Most Reverend Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff. "We hope to see more research focusing on adult stem cells, as their use raises none of the problems created by embryonic stem cells which require the destruction of human embryos."
Dignitas Personae recognises the important role that professionals in the biomedical community play in society:
"The Magisterium also seeks to offer a word of support and encouragement for the perspective on culture which considers science an invaluable service to the integral good of the life and dignity of every human being. The Church therefore views scientific research with hope and desires that many Christians will dedicate themselves to the progress of biomedicine and will bear witness to their faith in this field." (Dignitas Personae, n.3)
Dignitas Personae also responds to new bioethical questions about hybrid embryos and human cloning:
"From the ethical standpoint, such procedures represent an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and animal genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man. The possible use of the stem cells, taken from these embryos, may also involve additional health risks, as yet unknown, due to the presence of animal genetic material in their cytoplasm. To consciously expose a human being to such risks is morally and ethically unacceptable." (Dignitas Personae, n.33)
"Human cloning is intrinsically illicit in that it seeks to give rise to a new human being without a connection to the act of reciprocal self-giving between the spouses and, more radically, without any link to sexuality. This leads to manipulation and abuses gravely injurious to human dignity." (Dignitas Personae, n.28)
As part of the promotion of this launch, there are two short video recordings on the homepage of www.catholicbishops.ie. In these recordings Bishop Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick and Chair of the Bioethics Consultative Group of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference and Dr Phil Boyle, a fertility specialist at the Galway Clinic, discuss issues addressed in Dignitas Personae.
This web feature also includes:
· A text copy of Dignitas Personae
· What is a Person? a publication by Bishop Donal Murray
· Related links and useful information: