Instruction Dignitas personæ, “on Certain Bioethical Questions”

Source: FSSPX News


Document sans nom

This thirty-page long document, under preparation for several years, was released on December 12 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is an “update” of the Instruction Donum Vitæ, published in 1987. It denies being an intrusion of the Church into the domain proper to medical science, but means to remind all concerned of the ethical and social responsibility of their acts. To “some” physicians, Dignitas Personæ reproaches their considering the growing development of biomedical technology “from an essentially eugenic perspective.”

Dignitas Personæ begins with a reaffirmation that “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death.” Thus, “The body of a human being, from the very first stages of its existence, can never be reduced merely to a group of cells. At the same time: “Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage.”

The moral teaching of the Church was sometimes accused of “containing too many prohibitions,” acknowledges the Roman document addressed to “men of good will” and, more specifically to physicians, and researchers who are “open to dialogue and desirous of knowing what is true.” But the Instruction affirms that: “Behind every “no” in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great “yes” to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.”

This is why, with regard to techniques for assisting fertility, Dignitas Personæ invites to exclude “all techniques of heterologous artificial fertilization (in which at least one donor other than the spouses intervenes, Ed.), as well as those techniques of homologous artificial fertilization (using the gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage, Ed.) which substitute for the conjugal act.” The Church encourages adoption “as the answer to the desire of many infertile couples.”

Confronted with the very high number of embryos sacrificed in the techniques of in vitro fertilization, the Roman Instruction denounces the “purely utilitarian treatment of embryos”, and also the genetic selection of their offspring made by an increasing number of fertile couples. As regards male infertility, the technique of the “intracytoplasmic sperm injection” is declared “intrinsically illicit” by the fact that only one pre-selected spermatozoid is introduced into the oocyte.

Dignitas Personæ also rejects the freezing embryos and their use for research or therapeutic purposes, likewise the freezing of oocytes “considered as morally unacceptable.” Embryo reduction must be considered as “an intentional selective abortion”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also opposes the “eugenic mentality” implied by preimplantation diagnosis during which the embryo “suspected” of having genetic or chromosomal defects or of not having the desired sex is eliminated. The means of interception before the implantation of the embryo like “the morning-after pill” express “the fact that abortion is intended”.  As for the RU 486 pill, a means of contragestation (i.e. counter gestation) after the embryo has just implanted in the uterus, it is nothing else than an abortifacient means. All these means belong to the category of “sin of abortion” and “are gravely immoral.”

Lastly, Diginitas Personae deals with the so-called new “treatments” which involve the manipulation of the embryo or the human genetic patrimony.

Concerning “gene therapy”, germ line cell therapy which aims at correcting defects present in germ line cells with the purpose of transmitting the therapeutic effects to the offspring of the individual is declared “morally illicit.” When the aim of genetic engineering is to improve or strengthen the gene pool, there is a “eugenic mentality” “in which man tries to take the place of his Creator.”

The Roman instruction reaffirms that human cloning is also “intrinsically illicit” whether it be for reproductive of therapeutic purposes. This latter is deemed to be even more serious from the ethical point of view, “even with the intention of helping the sick, [it] is completely incompatible with human dignity, because it makes the existence of a human being at the embryonic stage nothing more than a means to be used and destroyed.”

The document also declares “illicit” the use of embryonic stem cells, and encourages once again research on the use of adult stem cells. Besides, Diginitas Personæ sees in the recent techniques of human-animal hybrid cloning “an offense against the dignity of human beings” just as in all the experiments on embryos legally allowed in some countries.

The document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been elaborated by members of the dicastery with the help of experts and of members of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Benedict XVI had approved it and ordered it to be published on June 20 last year.

On December 12, in an interview granted to the French daily La Croix, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared that the Instruction Dignitas Personæ aimed at “promoting and defending the dignity of the person which must be recognized for any human being from his conception to his natural death.” Indeed, “the human embryo (…) cannot be reduced to a mass of cells which can be disposed of as any laboratory material. The recognition of its dignity as a person does not depend from a stage in its evolution nor of the presence (or not) of a parental project concerning it.”

In a note broadcasted by the Vatican, the Head of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, affirmed that by showing a specific interest for embryos, Dignitas Personæ was taking a stand “in favor of the smallest and weakest human beings, who cannot speak up for themselves, and who, in truth do not find many people who speak up for them.” This stand is a courageous, passionate and convinced contribution of the Church “for a noble cause,” he declared. He then returned to the presentation of the Roman document. It is “in no wise a ‘stop’ to the commitment of science in favor of life,” but on the contrary, a “series of landmarks provided so that science may be truly at the service of life and not of death or of the arbitrary and dangerous manipulation of human persons. (Sources: Croix)