National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

‘Science Without Conscience’

BY Karen Walker

November 23-29,1997 Issue | Posted 11/23/97 at 2:00 PM


Donum Vitae, a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document, explores the morality of every currently possible procedure for human procreation. In this carefully crafted instruction the document bases an evaluation of in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and other technical, artificial interventions in human procreation on the nature of man and the purpose of his existence. It applies these principles also to the relationship between moral law and civil law in terms of the respect due to human embryos and fetuses.

Science and technology are valuable resources for man,” reads Donum Vitae, “but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress.… Science without conscience can only lead to man's ruin.… What is technically possible is not for that very reason morally admissible.”

The document, which draws from prior Church teachings including Vatican II, states that “Life, once conceived, must be protected with the utmost care” and “[h]uman life must be absolutely respected and protected from the moment of conception.” Borrowing from the Declaration on Procured Abortion, the document affirms that “[f]rom the time that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth.”

While empathizing with the suffering of infertility, Donum Vitae is clear about technological intervention in human procreation: “To use human embryos or fetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person. The practice of keeping human embryos alive in vivo or in vitro for experimental or commercial purposes is totally opposed to human dignity.… It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable ‘biological material.’… Development of the practice of in vitro fertilization has required innumerable fertilizations and destructions of human embryos.… The connection between in vitro fertilization and the voluntary destruction of human embryos occurs too often.…”

—Karen Walker