Vatican Goes 21st Century With Biotech Advice
By Brandon Keim December 12, 2008 | 8:07:54 PMCategories: Bioethics, Biotechnology, Religion, Reproduction, Stem Cell Research
In its first comprehensive evaluation of modern biotechnologies, the Vatican has denounced most forms of embryonic stem cell research, artificial reproduction and genetic enhancement.
The statement, issued today by the Vatican's doctrinal arm, is not uniformly opposed to human biotechnology: a few of its recommendations, especially those concerning genetic engineering, are surprisingly liberal.
Dignitas Personae Primer
• Quick Recap : The Vatican goes soup-to-nuts on human biotechnology, approving and disapproving various 21st century forms of reproduction, research and treatment.
• Original Source: Dignitas Personae, authored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the Vatican's in-house think tank. The Pope didn't write the message, but he did approve it.
• Reaction: "I continue to believe that stem cell research is a moral imperative because of the tremendous needs of our patients and our goal in medical research to cure disease and relieve suffering.... Cells are not people and embryos are not people, and my first responsibility as a physician is to patients -- not cells in a petri dish." Harvard stem cell pioneer George Daley, from the Washington Post.
• Reaction: "I think we are entering very rapidly into an age of great scientific potential and an age of great scientific peril.... Science is advancing to the point of refashioning human nature and utilizing human beings in a variety of different contexts. I think this should raise grave concerns for any person who believes that humans have intrinsic dignity." University of Utah neurobiologist Maureen Condic, from the Washington Post.
By insisting that embryos deserve humane treatment from the moment of conception, the Vatican's views still amount — from the perspective of their critics — to sacrificing full-grown people in order to save a few cells.
But even opponents acknowledge that the arguments are carefully reasoned and well-intentioned.
"It's well-written and well-argued," said Penn State bioethicist Art Caplan. "There's a lot I disagree with, but I like the fact that they're taking on the latest technologies and trying to wrestle with them. They're at least trying to get to the 21st century here."