Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Dignitatis Personae

I've been meaning to get around to talking about the new instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on bio-ethics issues, but there is a lot in it, so I thought at this stage I'd just put up a link and a bit of a summary.

This is an important document that everyone should read.

The framework and past teaching reviewed

It reviews briefly the ethical and moral framework in which we must view human life and marriage.

It then reviews the Church's position on fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization, and other related practices. The three guiding principles it articulates are:

"a) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from
conception to natural death;
b) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse;
c) the specifically human values of sexuality which require “that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses”.

Genetic manipulation

The last section deals with genetic manipulation. It finds that:
  • gene somatic therapy, that seeks to eliminate or reduce genetic defects on the level of somatic cells, that is, cells other than the reproductive cells, is licit in principle, but the risk of harm to progeny for 'gene line therapy' (genetic changes passed on to children) is still too high given the current state of research;
  • cloning, whether reproductive or therapeutic, is always immoral;
  • stem cells can be used only where they are obtained by appropriate means (ie from adults, umbilical chords, or fetuses who die of natural causes).


One of the topics covered by the Instruction that I know will be of immediate import to many parents is the case of vaccines derived from illicitly obtained material and the problems of cooperation and scandal. In general, the Instruction calls on researchers and producers of vaccines to take a tougher stance. But it also notes that there are degrees of co-operation, so that:

"Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material”. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available."

Do go have a read.

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