THE NEW VATICAN document warns 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 32-page instruction titled "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person") was issued 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.

The new instruction expanded on those teachings or presented new ones.

The document closes with an appeal to view the church’s teachings not as a series of "no’s" but as an effort to protect society’s weakest and most defenceless against forms of unjust discrimination and oppression.

"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 that the Creator has bestowed on man: such as life, knowledge, freedom and love," it said.

"Behind every ‘no’ in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence," it said.

"Dignitas Personae" drew on a number of sources, in particular "Donum Vitae" and Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"). It also cited the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, notably his address on stem cells to the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2006.

The Vatican said the new document, as a papally approved instruction of a doctrinal nature, falls under the category of the "ordinary magisterium", which is the church’s teaching authority, and is to be received by Catholics "with the religious assent of their spirit". -cns

COMMENT "This magisterial document reiterates the Catholic Church’s position on Artificial Reproduction Technologies (ART) and the parameters of Genetic Engineering. These are not new teachings. The document merely offers "additional clarification" of the Church's teachings. The Church has always supported scientific progress that respects the integral good of the human person. This integral good needs to go beyond the physical dimension to the ontological dimension. The document is clearly against reductionism where the human person is seen merely as a group of cells or tissues to be manipulated. This will depersonalise the human person and turn it from a subject into an object. I think before going into the specifics, we need to understand the Christian vision of the human person based on "faith and reason" and this vision is set out for us in Part I of the document." – Father James Yeo, moral theologian

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