Vatican reaffirms stand against IVF, designer babies, cloning
The Vatican issued a major document on bioethics today, “Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions,” that outlines Roman Catholic teaching on the latest procedures concerning human reproduction. This is the third major Vatican document on bioethics in recent years after Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) in 1987 — issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), like today’s document — and Pope John Paul’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) in 1995.
(Photo:Pope kisses baby at Vatican, 8 Oct 2008/Max Rossi)
Our news story on the document is here, accompanied by a list of procedures it declared morally unacceptable and acceptable and selected quotes from the text. The full text in English is here. The Vatican also has comments from the news conference presenting the document (here all in Italian).
Much of this is a restatement and updating of known Vatican positions. The wording is in places quite strong and sound-bite-like, which may mean those passages could be intended for use in national political debates about bioethics. There is too much to comment on individually here, so go to the links for details.
One interesting angle is the argument in the conclusion that modern societies have already banned other practices that violate human dignity such as “racism, slavery, unjust discrimination and marginalization of women, children, and ill and disabled people.:” It encourages Catholics to show “courageous opposition to all those practices which result in grave and unjust discrimination against unborn human beings, who have the dignity of a person, created like others in the image of God.”
(Photo:A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells)
The document also speaks of spare frozen embryos as “orphans” but says it would be against human dignity to use them for research or give them up for “prenatal adoption” as some anti-abortion voices have suggested. “The thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved,” it says.
Incidentally, Slate columnist William Saletan also writes today about “The frozen ones: the morally deserted world of spare embryos.” He says there are about 500,000 such frozen embryos in the United States alone and many parents have just left them in that limbo. An abortion rights advocate, he makes no mention of the Vatican document and uses no religious argument. But he also bemoans the fact that the increased freedom and choice brought by these new reproductive measures have not been matched by increased ethical concern about the results:
That freedom doesn’t eliminate moral obligation; it intensifies it. Each of us has to decide how to respect life in all its complexity. To me, embryos aren’t people, but they’re the beginnings of people. They aren’t to be created, killed, or frozen lightly … Don’t make or freeze embryos without thinking through what you’ll do with them. And if, after talking it over, you can’t stomach the options ahead, maybe you should reconsider whether you’re ready for this. That’s a lot to ask, I know. But nobody said choosing would be easy.”
What do you think about the Vatican document? And what should be done about spare frozen embryos?