The Dignity of the Embryo

(photo: Wikipedia)

Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella spoke today in Rome with Register correspondent Edward Pentin about Dignitas Personae, the Vatican’s new bioethics document.

Archbishop Fisichella, who is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, discussed some of the U.S. implications of the new document, and the focus it places on the dignity of the human embryo. Here’s what he told the Register:

How would you like this document to be received in the United States?

Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella: I think that the document which talks about life and the dignity of the human person will be received in a coherent way.

In the document there is a very particular statement about science: that one can only receive the science when science is able to also receive ethical principles. So in this case, I think we can join together scientific research in one hand and in the other hand, the necessity for science to have some principles — and first of all ethical principles.

Are you concerned about the current climate in the U.S., that with an Obama administration, this document might be simply ignored? Or do you see it almost as a warning to the new administration to heed principles that uphold the dignity of human life?

As you know, this document was written before the election of the new president.

I think that the most important thing is that we have several considerations and arguments about ethical problems and we offer this document to everybody. For this reason, I hope and I am sure that the team of the new president will be able also to understand the reasons given by the Catholic Church, and also be able to make a discernment of our argumentation.

What, to you, are the most important parts of this document?

The most important is the first part where you can find the anthropological and ethical foundations for the second and the third parts of the document. So without the possibility of understanding in the right and coherent way the first part in which we put our arguments, our possibility of the foundations of our perspective, it would be almost impossible to understand the second, third and fourth part.

You talked in the press conference about not being timid in presenting to the scientific community the Church’s teaching contained in this document. Is this document aimed at strengthening all the faithful in confronting the scientific world on these issues?

I think there are two different levels. The document says, in the right way in my opinion, that scientific research must continue its own work and we hope it will do so in a coherent way.

By coherent, we mean that the scientific research cannot be pressured by the economy or financial powers. It must be coherent with the common good and coherent with the dignity of the human person.

During the press conference, there was discussion over whether or not an embryo is a human being. Could you confirm what is the Church’s view on the status of the embryo?

The document says that the embryo has the same dignity as a human person. We don’t want to give a definition of a person as we know very well that there is a big discussion among scientists, philosophers and psychologists, and also in a juridical world.

So we won’t enter into this discussion, but the document says in a very clear way that the embryo is, in any case, subject to the dignity of every human life.

Look for more detailed coverage of Dignitas Personae in the next issue of the Register.

— Tom McFeely