|Interview With Bishop Elio Sgreccia
VATICAN CITY, 6 JULY 2004 (ZENIT)
In the face of approaches that
diminish man and even attack respect for life, Christian personalism
"reveals itself as an indispensable basic option," explains Bishop Elio
Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
It is, moreover, a cultural platform that has given origin in Rome just
over a year ago, at the initiative of the Center of Bioethics of the
Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, to the International Federation
of Centers and Institutes of Bioethics of Personalist Inspiration (FIBIP).
On June 21-22, the federation held its second congress at the university.
To understand Christian personalism and the FIBIP better, ZENIT
interviewed its president, Bishop Sgreccia.
Q: What is understood by Christian personalism?
Bishop Sgreccia: When, 20 years ago, the School of Medicine of the
Catholic University of the Sacred Heart decided to establish the Institute
of Bioethics, a choice was made of constructive and solid content, namely,
to put at the center of bioethical reflection the dignity of the human
person, recognized in every human being from conception until natural
death, in all conditions of life, sickness, proximity of death, handicap.
This idea corresponds to the position of Christian personalism, especially
from the ontological point of view, which refers to the human being, who
must be valued and promoted. This choice has revealed itself increasingly
as a basic, indispensable and distinctive option.
Q: There are other schools of bioethics that describe themselves as more
oriented to freedom ...
Bishop Sgreccia: Freedom does not subsist without responsibility. For
example, a family that builds itself in freedom without responsibility
means that it is open to divorce, abortion, de facto unions and even
There is no freedom without responsible commitment toward other human
beings; for this reason the freedom of personalism is true freedom,
charged with responsibility.
Q: There is also a current of thought that defines itself as utilitarian.
Bishop Sgreccia: Utilitarianism is oriented to the solution of problems,
to cancer sufferers or terminal patients, only insofar as they are useful,
and thus proposes euthanasia and no access to certain treatments or
surgical interventions for the elderly.
Utilitarianism values persons and treatments according to their economic
viability. Therefore, it proposes taking human embryos as they might be
useful to produce medicines, to produce cellular lines, all this without
respecting human dignity.
We are also opposed to so-called contractualism where ethics follows the
majority. Executing a contract between social agents results in attacking
those in society who are voiceless, namely, children, the sick, the
elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled.
These are persons who cannot enter into a contract, while there are
persons who negotiate for them to their detriment. This varied and diverse
cultural scene calls for dialogue with personalism which is a strong
concept, for a committed dialogue which appreciates the whole man and all
men, and the common good, which is not only the good of the majority, but
the good of all through the good of each without neglecting anyone,
especially the neediest.
Q: What place does personalism have in the Federation of Bioethics
Bishop Sgreccia: Personalism is the cultural platform on which different
bioethics centers have found themselves, among which are the School of
Bioethics of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, and other
centers of Argentina, Chile, the United States, etc.
It was born from their spontaneous desire to be together. Established last
year, then made official as the Federation of Centers and Institutes of
Bioethics, it assumed Christian personalism as its fundamental philosophy.
The federation has the formal affiliation of 31 centers in five
continents. We have received new requests for affiliation which we are
Besides this organization, we organized two days of study to see how,
through personalism, we could address certain problems, not only those of
biomedicine, which perhaps are many, but also those of health education,
health, ecology, and bio-law.
The European Constitution has just been launched and, especially on the
concept of family and the mention of the Christian roots, it doesn't seem
to move in the direction of Christian personalism. What is your opinion in
Bishop Sgreccia: I think that this Constitution does not respect the
European reality. From the objective point of view, it is culturally
lacking and does not reflect the truth. Europe has a multi-century and
multi-generational relationship with the Christian tradition. To deny this
is a historical and cultural falsehood.
Moreover, not to pronounce oneself on decisive values such as those
relating to the family, which is the fundamental cell of civil and social
coexistence; not to stress respect of life from procreation to natural
death; not to make reference to these strong values
means to prefigure a Europe that will be lacking in adequate cultural
instruments for its construction.
It is known, for example, that in demographic terms, Europe is committing
suicide. The percentages of fertility are very low; growth is under zero.
We are witnessing the phenomenon of empty cradles. It is clear that
children are born from families. To destabilize the family means to
undermine the process of procreation, not to defend the family and life
means not to prefigure a Europe of the future.
It is well known that even the economy cannot make do without solid
families and many children. Several Nobel Prize recipients have
demonstrated that an economy is solid when there is a sufficient number of
children born in solid families.
Immigration is helping us, but the European population is moving backward.
Europe must choose if it wants to be an old continent in which only the
ruins remain, or if it wishes to be a Europe in continuity and confront
its human capital with other cultures.
It is obvious that the loss of Europeans would be a loss for the whole
world. The cultural and civil qualities of Europe were developed thanks to
the interior cement of the Christian faith. It is a real shame to see the
Constitution born under the wind of secularization, a wind which I hope is
Q: The Earth Charter is mentioned in the European Constitution, which some
Catholic scholars like Michel Schooyans define as neo-pagan. What do you
Bishop Sgreccia: I think analogously that the Earth Charter suffers from a
biocentric approach, where man is no more than one element among others,
defined in fact as the most harmful of the biosphere.
However, I think that to safeguard the earth and maintain its great
heritage it is important to exalt human responsibility, because the only
being responsible for the other beings is man. Nothing less can come about
from his humanity and his responsibility. To wish to reject man's activity
in the universe means to allow the patrimony of all the several forms of
life to drift. ZE04070622