Saturday, December 13, 2008

selected excerpts from "Dignitas Personae" (released by the Vatican on 12/12/08)

Introduction
"1. The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death....
"2. In undertaking this study, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has benefited from the analysis of the Pontifical Academy for Life and has consulted numerous experts with regard to the scientific aspects of these questions, in order to address them with the principles of Christian anthropology....
"3. In presenting principles and moral evaluations regarding biomedical research on human life, the Catholic Church draws upon the light both of reason and of faith and seeks to set forth an integral vision of man and his vocation, capable of incorporating everything that is good in human activity, as well as in various cultural and religious traditions which not infrequently demonstrate a great reverence for life.
"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....
[Dignitas Personae] "has three parts: the first recalls some anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance; the second addresses new problems regarding procreation; the third examines new procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and the human genetic patrimony."

First Part: Anthropological, Theological and Ethical Aspects of Human Life and Procreation
"4. In recent decades, medical science has made significant strides in understanding human life in its initial stages....It is appropriate to recall the fundamental ethical criterion expressed in the Instruction Donum vitae in order to evaluate all moral questions which relate to procedures involving the human embryo: 'Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say, from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life'....
"The human embryo has, therefore, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person.
"6. Respect for that dignity is owed to every human being because each one carries in an indelible way his own dignity and value. 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'....
"7. It is the Church’s conviction that what is human is not only received and respected by faith, but is also purified, elevated and perfected....Christ did not disdain human bodiliness, but instead fully disclosed its meaning and value....
"8. By taking the interrelationship of these two dimensions, the human and the divine, as the starting point, one understands better why it is that man has unassailable value: he possesses an eternal vocation and is called to share in the trinitarian love of the living God....
"9. These two dimensions of life, the natural and the supernatural, allow us to understand better the sense in which the acts that permit a new human being to come into existence, in which a man and a woman give themselves to each other, are a reflection of trinitarian love....
"10. The Church, by expressing an ethical judgment on some developments of recent medical research concerning man and his beginnings, does not intervene in the area proper to medical science itself, but rather calls everyone to ethical and social responsibility for their actions. She reminds them that the ethical value of biomedical science is gauged in reference to both the unconditional respect owed to every human being at every moment of his or her existence, and the defense of the specific character of the personal act which transmits life. The intervention of the Magisterium falls within its mission of contributing to the formation of conscience, by authentically teaching the truth which is Christ and at the same time by declaring and confirming authoritatively the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature...."

Second Part: New Problems Concerning Procreation
"11....certain questions regarding procreation which have emerged and have become more clear in the years since the publication of Donum vitae"
Techniques for assisting fertility
"12...new medical techniques must respect three fundamental goods:
a) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death;
b) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse;
c) the specifically human values of sexuality which require 'that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses'.[quote from Donum Vitae].
Techniques which assist procreation 'are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. As such, they bear witness to the possibilities of the art of medicine. But they must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realize his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life'.[quote from Donum Vitae]
"....all techniques of heterologous artificial fertilization, as well as those techniques of homologous artificial fertilization which substitute for the conjugal act, are to be excluded....techniques which act as an aid to the conjugal act and its fertility are permitted....
"13. Certainly, techniques aimed at removing obstacles to natural fertilization, as for example, hormonal treatments for infertility, surgery for endometriosis, unblocking of fallopian tubes or their surgical repair, are licit....
"adoption should be encouraged, promoted and facilitated....research and investment directed at the prevention of sterility deserve encouragement."
In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos
"14....all techniques of in vitro fertilization proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded....
"16....it is ethically unacceptable to dissociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act....
"The desire for a child cannot justify the 'production' of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived"
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
"17....Just as in general with in vitro fertilization, of which it is a variety, ICSI is intrinsically illicit: it causes a complete separation between procreation and the conjugal act"
Freezing embryos
"18....Cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos; it presupposes their production in vitro; it exposes them to the serious risk of death or physical harm, since a high percentage does not survive the process of freezing and thawing; it deprives them at least temporarily of maternal reception and gestation; it places them in a situation in which they are susceptible to further offense and manipulation.
"The majority of embryos that are not used remain 'orphans'. Their parents do not ask for them and at times all trace of the parents is lost....
"19....
"Proposals to use these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease are obviously unacceptable because they treat the embryos as mere 'biological material' and result in their destruction. The proposal to thaw such embryos without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers, is also unacceptable.
"The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood; this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.
"It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of 'prenatal adoption'. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above [Note by blogger: This is believed to be the first statement on so-called "Snowflake" adoptions of embryos.].
"....the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved"
The freezing of oocytes
"20....
"cryopreservation of oocytes for the purpose of being used in artificial procreation is to be considered morally unacceptable."
The reduction of embryos
"21....embryo reduction is an intentional selective abortion. It is in fact the deliberate and direct elimination of one or more innocent human beings in the initial phase of their existence and as such it always constitutes a grave moral disorder....
"It is never permitted to do something which is intrinsically illicit, not even in view of a good result: the end does not justify the means."
Preimplantation diagnosis
22....Such diagnosis is done in order to ensure that only embryos free from defects or having the desired sex or other particular qualities are transferred.
"....Preimplantation diagnosis – connected as it is with artificial fertilization, which is itself always intrinsically illicit – is directed toward the qualitative selection and consequent destruction of embryos, which constitutes an act of abortion....
"....If at other times in history, while the concept and requirements of human dignity were accepted in general, discrimination was practiced on the basis of race, religion or social condition, today there is a no less serious and unjust form of discrimination which leads to the non-recognition of the ethical and legal status of human beings suffering from serious diseases or disabilities. It is forgotten that sick and disabled people are not some separate category of humanity; in fact, sickness and disability are part of the human condition and affect every individual, even when there is no direct experience of it. Such discrimination is immoral and must therefore be considered legally unacceptable, just as there is a duty to eliminate cultural, economic and social barriers which undermine the full recognition and protection of disabled or ill people."
New forms of interception and contragestation
"23. Alongside methods of preventing pregnancy which are, properly speaking, contraceptive..., there are other technical means which act after fertilization, when the embryo is already constituted, either before or after implantation in the uterine wall. Such methods are interceptive if they interfere with the embryo before implantation and contragestative if they cause the elimination of the embryo once implanted....
"....the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. [Question by blogger: As no guidelines are proposed for the "moral" use of interception, does this not countermand the guidelines for "emergency contraception", set forth by the Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops' "Guidelines for Catholic Hospitals Treating Victims of Sexual Assault" (1998) and directive 36 of the USCCB's "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition" (2001)?]. Furthermore, when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted [This phrase appears to indicate that there are no "moral" uses of interception.], there are serious penalties in canon law."
Third Part: New Treatments which Involve the Manipulation of the Embryo or the Human Genetic Patrimony
"24....research on embryonic stem cells and its possible future uses have prompted great interest, even though up to now such research has not produced effective results, as distinct from research on adult stem cells"
Gene therapy
"25....
"In theory, it is possible to use gene therapy on two levels: somatic cell gene therapy and germ line cell therapy. Somatic cell gene therapy seeks to eliminate or reduce genetic defects on the level of somatic cells, that is, cells other than the reproductive cells, but which make up the tissue and organs of the body. It involves procedures aimed at certain individual cells with effects that are limited to a single person. Germ line cell therapy aims instead at correcting genetic defects present in germ line cells with the purpose of transmitting the therapeutic effects to the offspring of the individual. Such methods of gene therapy, whether somatic or germ line cell therapy, can be undertaken on a fetus before his or her birth as gene therapy in the uterus or after birth on a child or adult.
"26....Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit....
"Because the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny. In the hypothesis of gene therapy on the embryo, it needs to be added that this only takes place in the context of in vitro fertilization and thus runs up against all the ethical objections to such procedures. For these reasons, therefore, it must be stated that, in its current state, germ line cell therapy in all its forms is morally illicit [This appears to be new.].
"27. The question of using genetic engineering for purposes other than medical treatment also calls for consideration....the prospect of such an intervention would end sooner or later by harming the common good, by favouring the will of some over the freedom of others. Finally it must also be noted that in the attempt to create a new type of human being one can recognize an ideological element in which man tries to take the place of his Creator....
"the Church also recalls the need to return to an attitude of care for people and of education in accepting human life in its concrete historical finite nature."
Human cloning
"28....
"Human cloning is intrinsically illicit in that, by taking the ethical negativity of techniques of artificial fertilization to their extreme, 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.
"29....The fact that someone would arrogate to himself the right to determine arbitrarily the genetic characteristics of another person represents a grave offense to the dignity of that person as well as to the fundamental equality of all people....
"30. From the ethical point of view, so-called therapeutic cloning is even more serious. To create embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, 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. It is gravely immoral to sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends.
"The ethical objections raised in many quarters to therapeutic cloning and to the use of human embryos formed in vitro have led some researchers to propose new techniques which are presented as capable of producing stem cells of an embryonic type without implying the destruction of true human embryos. These proposals have been met with questions of both a scientific and an ethical nature regarding above all the ontological status of the 'product' obtained in this way. Until these doubts have been clarified, the statement of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae needs to be kept in mind: 'what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo'.
The therapeutic use of stem cells
"31. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells with two basic characteristics:
a) the prolonged capability of multiplying themselves while maintaining the undifferentiated state;
b) the capability of producing transitory progenitor cells from which fully differentiated cells descend, for example, nerve cells, muscle cells and blood cells.
Once it was experimentally verified that when stem cells are transplanted into damaged tissue they tend to promote cell growth and the regeneration of the tissue, new prospects opened for regenerative medicine, which have been the subject of great interest among researchers throughout the world.
"Among the sources for human stem cells which have been identified thus far are:
the embryo in the first stages of its existence,
the fetus,
blood from the umbilical cord and
various tissues from adult humans (bone marrow, umbilical cord, brain, mesenchyme from various organs, etc.) and
amniotic fluid.
At the outset, studies focused on embryonic stem cells, because it was believed that only these had significant capabilities of multiplication and differentiation. Numerous studies, however, show that adult stem cells also have a certain versatility. Even if these cells do not seem to have the same capacity for renewal or the same plasticity as stem cells taken from embryos, advanced scientific studies and experimentation indicate that these cells give more positive results than embryonic stem cells. Therapeutic protocols in force today provide for the use of adult stem cells and many lines of research have been launched, opening new and promising possibilities.
"32....
"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....
"The use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them – even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available – presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal.[52]
"There are no moral objections to the clinical use of stem cells that have been obtained licitly; however, the common criteria of medical ethics need to be respected....
"Research initiatives involving the use of adult stem cells, since they do not present ethical problems, should be encouraged and supported."
Attempts at hybridization
"33. Recently animal oocytes have been used for reprogramming the nuclei of human somatic cells – this is generally called hybrid cloning – in order to extract embryonic stem cells from the resulting embryos without having to use human oocytes.
"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."
The use of human 'biological material' of illicit origin
"34....It needs to be remembered above all that the category of abortion 'is to be applied also to the recent forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of those embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and is legally permitted in some countries… [T]he use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person'.[quote from Evangilium Vitae] These forms of experimentation always constitute a grave moral disorder.
35....
"there is a duty to refuse to use such 'biological material' even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place....
"Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such 'biological material'. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available. Moreover, in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.
"In the context of the urgent need to mobilize consciences in favour of life, people in the field of healthcare need to be reminded that “their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness”.[Quote from Evangilium Vitae]
Conclusion
"36. There are those who say that the moral teaching of the Church contains too many prohibitions. In reality, however, her teaching is based on the recognition and promotion of all the gifts which the Creator has bestowed on man: such as life, knowledge, freedom and love. Particular appreciation is due not only to man’s intellectual activities, but also to those which are practical, like work and technological activities. By these, in fact, he participates in the creative power of God and is called to transform creation by ordering its many resources toward the dignity and wellbeing of all human beings and of the human person in his entirety. In this way, man acts as the steward of the value and intrinsic beauty of creation.
"Human history shows, however, how man has abused and can continue to abuse the power and capabilities which God has entrusted to him, giving rise to various forms of unjust discrimination and oppression of the weakest and most defenseless....
"At the same time, human history has also shown real progress in the understanding and recognition of the value and dignity of every person as the foundation of the rights and ethical imperatives by which human society has been, and continues to be structured. Precisely in the name of promoting human dignity, therefore, practices and forms of behaviour harmful to that dignity have been prohibited....
"37. If initially human and social progress was characterized primarily by industrial development and the production of consumer goods, today it is distinguished by developments in information technologies, research in genetics, medicine and biotechnologies for human benefit, which are areas of great importance for the future of humanity, but in which there are also evident and unacceptable abuses. 'Just as a century ago it was the working classes which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the Church courageously came to their defense by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights of the worker as person, so now, when another category of persons is being oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the Church feels in duty bound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who have no voice. Hers is always the evangelical cry in defense of the world’s poor, those who are threatened and despised and whose human rights are violated'.[quote from John Paul II's letter to bishops on “The Gospel of Life”]
"In virtue of the Church’s doctrinal and pastoral mission, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has felt obliged to reiterate both the dignity and the fundamental and inalienable rights of every human being, including those in the initial stages of their existence, and to state explicitly the need for protection and respect which this dignity requires of everyone.
"The fulfillment of this duty implies 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....
"The Christian faithful will commit themselves to the energetic promotion of a new culture of life by receiving the contents of this Instruction with the religious assent of their spirit, knowing that God always gives the grace necessary to observe his commandments and that, in every human being, above all in the least among us, one meets Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:40). In addition, all persons of good will, in particular physicians and researchers open to dialogue and desirous of knowing what is true, will understand and agree with these principles and judgments, which seek to safeguard the vulnerable condition of human beings in the first stages of life and to promote a more human civilization. "

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About Me

I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

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