Vatican reaffirms stand against IVF, designer babies, cloning

December 12, 2008

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.

John Thavis of Catholic News Service has a useful “Vatican bioethics document at a glance” and John Allen has a detailed analysis at “Vatican issues new document on biotechnology.”

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?

3 comments

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To understand the begining one also has to look at the end. Religion likes to take a blind eye to its own failings when it creates paradoxes by its own beliefs.

Here is the paradox: Relgion, states that life begins with the first division of cells, or at least the Pope and Christians do. But if life begins then, then life does not end till long long after a body is buried in the ground. How dare Christians bury a living human. You see the cells don’t die when the human ceases to interact with us, in fact the awful smell and or decay, is in fact a sign that many of the cells are still in fact alive. Humans are not just simple single celled organisms – so given that – the gift from God that religion should be based on has nothing to do with the body. I think they even teach that as well… don’t they? Its the spirit that matters – and if the spirit leaves the body at death… then when does the spirit enter the body? And when is death? You can’t define the begining of life as the first division of cells – if you also don’t define life as the last cell to die.

Hypocracy is exactly what Jesus the man was fighting against – Jewish hypocracy at that time. With knowledge should come greater understanding – not a demand for more prohibitions and rules.

If the spirit leaves the body when the brain stops – then no spirit and no human exists until the brain can support the body on its own. No brain, no self support – no spirit.

Before condeming what they don’t understand – people should try to educate themselves on the topic – use the gifts we have over the other animals on this planet, instead of attempting to rule on topics based on uneducated moral stands which may simply be based on improper education and the bias that comes with it.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

It is extremely difficult to look at the beautiful children conceived through in vitro fertilization and criticize the process through which they were conceived, yet since the process itself is relatively new it needs to be examined with an eye towards all its repercussions.
The major objection concerns the number of fertilized embryos and their ultimate destinations, none of which appear respectful to their human status. The
Church has said much about this with which I agree. However, I would like to address another aspect that I believe needs to be considered. The process used fractures the unity of the act whereby children are normally conceived. The father’s role in particular becomes functionary. Others become involved in fertilization process in ways that were not possible in the past, ways that shift the former uniqueness of the father’s role.
Respecting human life at its earliest stages has the potential of strengthening family life, which in turn has the potential of strengthening society. While recognizing children as gifts to be welcomed and not as entitlements goes counter to the world’s views, history demonstrates that the wisdom of the Church’s teachings has far-reaching effects for the good of all.

Posted by Jane Gilroy | Report as abusive

Chris,

Since you seem so knowledgeable on those with no brains and condescendingly chide people to “get educated,” it’s spelled h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y.

You’re welcome.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive