On Friday, December 12, the Vatican released a document on bioethics, Dignitas Personae (Dignity of the Person), which showed how the
Catholic hierarchy is once again on the wrong side of science and the
needs of contemporary society. While there was little new in the
statement, the document reconfirmed the Vatican’s condemnation of
artificial reproductive technologies and also said human cloning,
designer babies and embryonic stem-cell research are all immoral. It
remains difficult to reconcile the Vatican’s self-avowed prolife
approach with the rejection of in-vitro fertilization and embryo
freezing, not to mention the condemnation of the potential of stem-cell
research. As our scientists use ground-breaking technology to find
treatments to diseases that have endured for centuries, they need our
support, not the condemnation put forth by the Vatican.
We know that Catholics are as likely to suffer from fertility
problems as is the rest of the population and they should have the
support of their hierarchy as they pursue parenthood. Catholics also
understand the potential of embryonic stem-cell research, and support
it in large numbers. A poll we carried out during the summer found that
almost seven in ten Catholics in the US favor stem-cell research with
early human embryos (69 percent). A similar number support decoupling
science from religion, rejecting the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to
influence scientific endeavor. An even larger proportion (73 percent)
say they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious obligation
to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. This may be an issue
during the coming administration if Congress is asked to vote on
whether to extend federal funding for such vital research.
It is true that the Catholic hierarchy has had a long and public
battle with science and scientists over the centuries. What’s perhaps
less well known is the fact that despite these battles, various
elements of the Catholic church have a long and well respected
reputation for supporting scientific endeavor. Church teachings not only allow but encourage adherents to the Catholic faith to support and promote scientific discovery. We
need that aspect of the church to step forward now, and show the world
that Catholicism and scientific progress can work in harmony to help
develop the cures we need to deal with disease and infertility.
A famous Catholic scientist, John Rock, had some sage words for the
Catholic bishops. Rock, who was the co-inventor of the contraceptive
pill, received a letter from an angry conservative. "You should be
afraid to meet your Maker," she wrote soon after the pill was approved.
"My dear madam," Rock replied, "in my faith, we are taught that the
Lord is with us always. When my time comes, there will be no need for
introductions." Rock was also a pioneer in in-vitro fertilization and
the freezing of sperm cells, and was the first to extract an intact
fertilized egg. Here clearly was a man who did much to promote life and
the dignity of the individual. Now that is something that all good
Catholics can support.
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