2009-02-21 13:53:44

Pope Warns Against Genetic Discrimination

(21 Feb 09 - RV) Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life Saturday at the end of their Plenary Assembly which this year looked at ethical questions raised by recent advances in genetic manipulation.

Pope Benedict began with words of praise for the advances in genetic science. He said since the Augustinian Abbot Gregory Mendel first discovered the laws governing hereditary characteristics in the mid eighteenth century, the science of genetics has made giant leaps in understanding the language of biological information, helping to indicate people who risk inheriting hereditary disease. This knowledge he pointed out, is the fruit of the genius and tireless work of countless academics, and has made it possible to make more effective and earlier diagnosis of diseases, and even in some cases cure them. Moreover he said, since the decoding of the human genome, it has become possible to investigate what makes individuals different. In short the field of this research still presents a wide and unexplored horizon, and as such it requires particular support; scientific research, continued Pope Benedict, must have as it’s ultimate gaol the good of all humanity.
 The Holy father continued by observing however that : “man will always be greater that the sum of his parts” and quoting scientist Blaise Pascal, he reaffirmed that the human being is much more than the singular combination of genetic information transmitted him or her by parents. The generation of a new individual can never be reduced to the mere reproduction the human species, as if the individual were an animal. If scientists really wish to enter into the mystery of human life, the nit is necessary that science does not isolate itself or claim to posses the last word in the matter. Scientists must share in the common vocation to reach the truth, be it with different means and methodologies.

The Pope then passed on to the ethical questions and risks posed by recent discoveries in genetics that were discussed by the Academy during their Assembly. Risks such as the practice of eugenics, which he forcefully underlined, is nothing new, having been imposed on people in the past in unprecedented forms of discrimination and violence. Disapproval for the violent use of eugenics by a state regime towards an ethic group is so deeply engrained in the human conscience that it was formally expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet despite this, noted Pope Benedict, worrying forms of this hateful practise are presented to us today under a different guise. Of course the racial ideologies of eugenics which humiliated man in the past are not argued, instead a new mentality is insinuating itself that tends to justify the meaning of life and personal dignity based on personal desires and rights. Perfection, beauty, operative abilities and efficiency instead are privileged to the detriment of other dimensions of existence which are not held to be worthy enough. In this way, the respect which each individual demands is undermined, even in the presence of a growth defect or a genetic disease that may possibly manifest itself in the course of the individuals life, and they are penalised from their very conception, those children whose lives are judged not worthy to be lived.

Concluding Pope Benedict firmly reiterated that “all forms of discrimination exercised by any one power over persons or populations based on real or presumed genetic factors is an attack on all of humanity…all human beings are equal by the same fact that they all have life. Biological, physiological, cultural or health development can never be a discriminatory element. On the contrary we must consolidate the culture of acceptance and love that witnesses concrete solidarity towards those who suffer, breaking down the barriers that society often erects. Barriers that discriminate against those who are disabled or affected by pathologies, or worse still refuse life in the name of an abstract ideal of health and physical perfection. If man is reduced to an object to be manipulated and experimented on from the very first stages of his development, that means that medical biotechnology will be reduced to the arbitrary rule of the strongest. Trust in the world of science cannot allow us to forget the primacy of ethics when Human Life is in question.

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