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Religion and Society

Where the Catholic Church Stands on Genetic Issues: How and where do we draw the line?

H.E. Mgr. Camillo Ballin, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait

Mr. President,

 

It gives me great pleasure to present the Catholic Church's principles towards the genetic issues, especially on how the Church guides its believers towards the application of these principles. I offer my thanks to all who worked to make this conference possible. I thank your honor and the generous audience too.

 

The Catholic Church believes that man and woman's life on this earth is a sacred truth given to protect in a responsible way and to lead it to its maturity in love and giving, to God and to others. We receive this value in renewable admiration and feel it should be announced to people of all times. The Bible is an overwhelming spring of hope and true joy to all ages of history. The Bible is God's love for man, the Bible is about human dignity, the Bible is life and it is an indivisible Bible. This Good News is of important obligation because everyday there is threat to people and individuals of the dangers that become bigger and bigger especially when life is weak and unprotected.

 

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" wrote: "Unfortunately, this disturbing state of affairs, far from decreasing, is expanding: with the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological progress there arise new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being. At the same time a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and-if possible-even more sinister character, giving rise to further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim not only exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so that these things can be done with total freedom and indeed with the free assistance of health-care systems.

 

 

All this is causing a profound change in the way in which life and relationships between people are considered. The fact that legislation in many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions, has determined not to punish these practices against life, and even to make them altogether legal, is both a disturbing symptom and a significant cause of grave moral decline. Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable. Even certain sectors of the medical profession, which by its calling is directed to the defense and care of human life, are increasingly willing to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very nature of the medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practice it is degraded. In such a cultural and legislative situation, the serious demographic, social and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and which require responsible and effective attention from national and international bodies, are left open to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and nations.

 

The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life ("Evangelium Vitae").

 

 

The Catholic Church is therefore stating the following principles :

 

 

1. We do not accept the technology that puts human life, from conception to natural death, in danger. We support any technology which protects life and guards it.

 

 

2. The Catholic Church's teachings state that humans, the children of God, enjoy their freedom and have a free will. However, this does not mean that there are no rules and regulations since man, in many cases, falls victim to his lusts, feelings and circumstances. This of course limits his freedom. A free man is one who is capable of overcoming evil, lust etc. This freedom helps him make decisions for life. This is very important for genetic issues as man should be free to defend and protect life.

 

Personal judgment should never nullify an ethical issue. The general ethical principle is the governing factor which controls changing circumstances. For example, if a girl gets pregnant outside of marriage, this is a personal status legalized by an ethical principle and not the girl's situation. However, wherever a new life starts, we should never kill it to protect the reputation of the individual and at the same time, we should not judge or persecute the girl. In fact we should care for her and treat her with deep understanding. When we say that conception outside of marriage is wrong, we judge the action, not the doer of that action!

 

 

3. We support science, we want it to go ahead and we hope that medical science finds ways to cure and help - but we are against using genetic cells as it contains new life. We shouldn't kill life to help science, we should protect life, whatever the end - life is sacred.

 

 

4. We should adhere to ethical governing factors and see individual cases in its light. We should not accept anything that does not rely on ethics.

 

 

5. Saving and preserving life or lessening pain? Medicine and science should do its best to save life and lessen pain without jeopardizing another life. Let us consider this real case: A pregnant woman was diagnosed with cancer. Can the physician take any action against the fetus. Does he have the right to kill it in order to save the mother? The principle we hold is that we should not kill life to save life. The Italian lady who had cancer refused to take pain killing medication in order to avoid her child having side effects or other danger. So the child was born safe and the lady died at child birth. The Church has made her a Saint. The aim of medicine is not to fight pain only, but to also save life. This leads us to another issue: Euthanasia. Which is 'killing' ill or old people because they do not have a hope of a cure and save them the pain. God accepts the pain of a patient and turns it into a spring of life for the patient and his family and for the world too. There is no doubt that faith opens doors for a patient to endure pain. Those who accept God's will, God will support them in a way medicine cannot.

 

Upon these principles, the Catholic Church presents the following instructions :

 

 

a) The Catholic Church does not accept researches on fetus, stem cell technology, except for the treatment of a fetus. We believe that the embryonic cells are new life and cannot be a matter of scientific research.

 

 

b) Experiments on the fetus before delivery is not allowed by the Church as it makes distinction between humans, whilst we should accept everyone as they are. As Pope John Paul II stated: "Prenatal diagnosis, which presents no moral objections if carried out in order to identify the medical treatment which may be needed by the child in the womb, all to often becomes an opportunity for proposing and procuring an abortion" (Evangelium Vitae).

 

 

c) For the same reason, the Catholic Church refuses to conduct diagnosis on fetus based on hereditary proof or 'evidence' as we cannot refuse a human life to come into being because it is different from our expectations.

 

 

d) The Catholic Church refuses reproductive cloning as it is against God's ways. As regards artificial insemination techniques of all kinds, Pope John Paul II again says "The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act, these techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failure in relation to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development of the embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very short space of time. Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than that needed for implantation in the woman's womb, and these so-called 'spare embryos' are then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple "biological material" to be freely disposed of." (Evangelium Vitae).

 

 

e) The Catholic Church is against genetic engineering but encourages gene treatment because it cherishes life and works on preserving it as it belongs to God. Man's life is sacred. Pope John Paul II says, "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves 'the creative action of God', and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being" (Evangelium Vitae).

 

 

f) In conclusion I would like to quote St. Paul when he wrote to the Ephesians: "Go and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Eph.5:10-11)

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