Life an inalienable subject
On Saturday morning, 13 February
, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, the Holy Father spoke to the
Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life taking part in their General
Assembly. The following is a translation of the Pope's Address, which
was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in
Distinguished Members of the
Pontificia Academia Pro Vita,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you to offer you
a cordial greeting on the occasion of the General Assembly of the
Pontifical Academy for Life. It is called to reflect on themes
pertaining to the relationship between bioethics and the natural moral
law which, because of the constant developments in this branch of
science, appear ever more important in the context of our day.
I address a special greeting to
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of this Academy, and I thank him
for his courteous words on behalf of those present. I likewise wish to
extend my personal thanks to each one of you for the invaluable and
irreplaceable commitment you devote to life in your various fields.
The problems that gravitate around the
theme of bioethics demonstrate the priority given to the
anthropological issue in the questions put to you. As I said in my
latest Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate: "A particularly
crucial battleground in today's struggle between the supremacy of
technology and human moral responsibility is the field of bioethics,
where the very possibility of integral human development is
radically called into question. In this most delicate and critical area,
the fundamental question asserts itself forcefully: is man the product
of his own labours or does he depend on God?
"Scientific discoveries in this field
and the possibilities of technological intervention seem so advanced as
to force a choice between two types of reasoning: reason open to
transcendence or reason closed within immanence" (n. 74). In the face of
such questions that touch so decisively on human life in its perennial
tension between immanence and transcendence and that have immense
importance for the culture of the future generations, it is necessary to
set up an integral pedagogical project that allows these topics to be
treated in a positive, balanced and constructive perspective, especially
regarding the relationship between faith and reason.
Bioethical issues often bring to the
fore the reference to the dignity of the person. This is a fundamental
principle which faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ has always
defended, especially when, in respect of the simplest and most
defenceless people, it is disregarded. God loves each human being
uniquely and profoundly.
Bioethics moreover, like every
discipline, needs a reference that can guarantee a consistent reading of
ethical issues that inevitably emerge in the face of the disputes that
may arise from their interpretation. In this sphere the normative
reference to the natural moral law comes into its own.
Indeed, the recognition of human dignity
as an inalienable right is founded primarily on this law, which is not
written by a human hand but is engraved in human hearts by God the
Creator. Every juridical order is required to recognize this law as
inviolable and every individual is called to respect and promote it (cf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1954-1960).
Without the founding principle of human
dignity the search for a source for the rights of the person would be
arduous, and it would be impossible to reach an ethical judgement on the
scientific breakthroughs that intervene directly in human life. It is
necessary, therefore, to repeat firmly that there can be no
understanding of human dignity as linked merely to external elements,
such as scientific progress, graduality in the formation of human life
or facile pietism in the face of limited situations. When respect for
the dignity of the person is invoked, it is fundamental that it should
be full, total and without restrictions other than those entailed in the
recognition that it is always human life that is involved.
Human life, of course, experiences its
own development and the horizon of scientific and bioethical research is
open; yet it is necessary to reassert that when it is a matter of
contexts that concern the human being, scientists can never think that
they are merely dealing with inanimate and manipulable matter. In fact,
from the very first instant of the human being's life is characterized
by the fact that it is human life and for this reason possesses
its own dignity everywhere and in spite of all (cf. Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical
Questions, n. 5).
Otherwise, we should always be
threatened by the risk of an exploitative use of science, with
the inevitable consequence of slipping into arbitrary decisions,
discrimination and the financial interest of the strongest.
Combining bioethics and the natural
moral law makes it possible to ensure as best we can the necessary and
unavoidable reference to that dignity which human life intrinsically
possesses from its first moment until its natural end. On the contrary,
in today's context, despite the increasing reference to the rights that
guarantee the person's dignity, it is clear that recognition of these
rights is not always applied to human life in its natural development or
in its weakest stages.
A similar contradiction demands that a
commitment be assumed in the various social and cultural contexts to see
that human life is recognized everywhere as an inalienable subject of
law, and never as an object subjected to the arbitrary will of the
History has shown how dangerous and
harmful a State can be that proceeds to legislate on issues which affect
the person and society, even claiming to be the source and principle of
ethics. Without the universal principles that permit the verification of
a common denominator for all humanity, the risk of drifting into
relativism in the area of legislation should not be underestimated (cf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1959).
The natural moral law, strong in its
universal character, makes it possible to ward off this danger and,
above all, offers the legislator a guarantee for the authentic respect
of both the person and the entire order of creatures. It is, as it were,
a catalyzing source of consensus between people of different cultures
and religions and permits them to overcome differences. This is because
it asserts the existence of an order impressed within nature by the
Creator and recognized as an instance of true rational ethical judgement
in order to pursue good and avoid evil.
Natural moral law "belongs to the great
heritage of human wisdom. Revelation, with its light, has contributed to
further purifying and developing it" (Pope John Paul II, Address to
participants in the Bi-Annual Plenary Assembly
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, 6 February 2004;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 February 2004, p. 3).
Distinguished Members of the Pontifical
Academy for Life, in the contemporary context your commitment appears to
be ever more delicate and difficult, but the increasing sensitivity to
human life is an encouragement to continue with ever greater dynamism
and courage in this important service to life and to teaching the future
generations the Gospel values.
I hope you will all persevere in your
study and research, so that the work of promoting and defending life may
be more and more effective and fruitful. I accompany you with the
Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to all who share with you in
this daily commitment.