December 12, 2008
In a move designed to firm up faith-based opposition to embryonic stem cell research and other cutting-edge biomedical technologies, the Vatican has released a 32-page document titled “Dignitas Personae” – meaning “the dignity of a person.” The document condemns a host of procedures considered “immoral” by the Catholic Church, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), the freezing of unfertilized eggs, embryonic stem cell research, and the testing of embryos to help identify those with defects.
The Center for Inquiry, a think tank headquartered in Amherst, New York that supports research on bioethical questions, deplores the Vatican’s pronouncement. The Vatican’s position has no justification other than religious doctrine, according to the Center for Inquiry, and may have a serious adverse effect on scientific research and the development of medical therapies.
“I regret the renewed effort by the Vatican to censor—indeed prohibit—research in reproductive science,” said Paul Kurtz, chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry. “Do we have to wage the Galileo battle again? The Vatican claims that their objections are “moral,” but they are based on a theological doctrine that a formless fertilized egg is a full human being, a position which most scientists reject.” Kurtz says there is a need to defend freedom of scientific research and the positive good that can ensue for countless numbers of infertile couples. “The effort to curtail stem cell research is especially disturbing in the view of the possible beneficent results for improving human health,” he said.
The Vatican has focused on commonplace scientific technologies used in the United States and elsewhere, which the Church believes demean human “dignity,” and bring humans perilously close to “playing God.” The Church continues to hold steadfast to its key theological proclamation that “life begins at conception,” thereby rendering as “illicit” the use of embryos or fertilized eggs in research or otherwise, including IVF for married Catholic couples wishing to conceive.
Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry (and author of the book
Future Bioethics: Overcoming Taboos, Myths, and Dogmas
) said that “the Vatican has once again manifested its regrettable preference for religious doctrine over science. Until roughly fourteen days after conception, one cannot even meaningfully refer to the embryo as an individual, let alone the equivalent of an adult human, since both twinning and fusion are possible until that point.” Lindsay added that the Vatican’s rejection of IVF on the ground that it results in the discarding of embryos is especially ironic since from 60 to 80 percent of embryos conceived “naturally” are spontaneously aborted. “If the Vatican wants to prevent embryos from ‘dying,’ then they will have to instruct couples to avoid sex completely.”
“The bottom line,” says Lindsay, “is that the Vatican is telling those who need medical assistance to seek help from theology, not therapy.”