VATICAN CITY – A new Vatican document warned that certain recent developments in stem-cell research, gene therapy and embryonic experimentation violate moral principles and reflect an attempt by man to “take the place of his Creator”.
The latest advances raise serious questions of moral complicity for researchers and other biotech professionals, who have a duty to refuse to use biological material obtained by unethical means, the document said.
The 32-page instruction, titled “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”), was issued on Dec 12 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Benedict XVI personally approved the text and ordered its publication.
The document represented an updating of the congregation’s 1987 instruction, “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”), which rejected in vitro fertilisation, human cloning, surrogate motherhood and non-therapeutic experiments with human embryos.

At a glance

Here are the major points of  “Dignitas Personae”:
– Two fundamental principles for reflection on bioethical questions are: First, the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; second, responsible human procreation occurs in the act of reciprocal love between a man and a woman in marriage.
– Stem-cell research opens new prospects for regenerative medicine and is morally permissible when it uses stem cells taken from adult organisms, but not when it takes cells from human embryos, because it invariably causes their death.
– Researchers in the biotech profession have a moral duty to refuse to use biological material that comes from a procedure considered gravely immoral by the church, even
if there is no close connection between the
researcher and those doing the illicit procedure.
– The morning-after pill and other methods of preventing the implantation of a fertilised egg are immoral because they are intended to cause an abortion. Using such methods falls “within the sin of abortion”, and when there is certainty that an abortion has taken place there are serious canon law penalties.
– Human cloning, whether for producing embryonic stem cells or to obtain the birth of a genetically predetermined baby, is immoral.
– Techniques for assisting fertility are morally permissible if they respect the right to life of every human being and respect procreation as a result of the conjugal act in marriage.
– In vitro fertilisation and the deliberate destruction of embryos are morally unacceptable.
– The freezing of embryos or of human eggs, commonly done in assisted fertility treatment, is also morally illicit.
– The thousands of unused, frozen human embryos are in a sense “orphans”. The proposal for “prenatal adoption” that would allow frozen embryos to be born, although well intended, would itself be subject to a number of problems.
– Genetic therapy that aims to correct genetic defects on a subject’s non-reproductive cells, limiting the effect to a single person, is morally acceptable.
– Therapy that makes genetic modifications aimed at transmitting the effects to the subject’s offspring is morally illicit, because of potential harm to the offspring. -  By John Thavis, CNS

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