I Appeal to World's Scientific Authorities: Halt the Production of Human Embryos!

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given to those attending a Symposium on "Evangelium vitae and Law", and the 11th International Colloquium on Roman and Canon Law, when he received them in audience on Friday, 24 May 1996.

Your Eminences, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am pleased to offer my cordial welcome to each one of you.

My thoughts turn first of all to those who are taking part in the Symposium on Evangelium vitae and Law, organized by the Pontifical Councils for the Family and for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.

I greet Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo and I thank him for the sentiments he has expressed also on behalf of those who took part in the work. I also greet Archbishop Julian Herranz, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the learned representatives of the Pontifical Athenaeums in Rome as well as the distinguished professors and researchers from more than 200 universities and faculties of legal sciences throughout the world, who have taken part in the convention.

I express my deep satisfaction with this joint project of the three pontifical institutions which have made this meeting possible. Their common intention is to delve more deeply into a fundamental aspect of the teaching presented in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, in other words that of the relationship between the "culture of life" and the sphere of law, from the standpoint of philosophical research, educational work and legislative activity. It is a complex theme which deserves serious consideration.

2. I greet Bishop Angelo Scola, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, and the learned scholars from every continent who have gathered together to discuss the relationship between ethics and law in the formation of modern legal systems. This theme is one of the fundamental questions which have challenged the best energies of human thought in every age.

Necessary link between freedom and truth

Therefore the study of modern legal systems leads to reformulating, with clarity, a suitable and pertinent connection between ethics and law, with constant reference to the basic principles of the human person as they are precisely defined in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae.

3. Indeed, the Encyclical meant to reassert the vision of human life which springs in full from Christian revelation, but whose essential core can also be reached by human reason. It has done so also taking into account the enrichment which rational reflection has been developing down the centuries. In fact, to recognize the value of human life, from conception until its natural end, is an achievement of civilization to be safeguarded as a primary good of the person and of society. Today, however, in many societies it is not unusual to see a sort of regression of civilization, the result of an incomplete and sometimes distorted conception of human freedom, which often finds public legitimization in the State legal system. That is, it happens that the respect due to the inalienable right to life of every human being is opposed by a subjectivist conception of freedom, detached from the moral law. This conception, based on grave errors regarding the person's very nature and rights, has frequently succeeded, by using majority rules, in introducing into the juridical system the legalized suppression of the right to life of innocent, unborn human beings.

It is therefore useful, from both the philosophical and the juridical standpoint, to highlight the close relationship between the Encyclicals Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae: the former underscores the influence in subverting the moral and juridical order exercised by "currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth" (n. 4, AAS 85 [1993], 1136). Evangelium vitae, in speaking of the urgent need to foster a "new culture of life", and of the "essential connection between life and freedom", stressed the need to recover "the necessary link between freedom and truth", because "when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis" (n. 96, AAS 87 [1995], 510).

To affirm a person's right to freedom while ignoring the objective truth about that same person, makes it impossible to construct an intrinsically just legal system, because it is precisely the human person—as he was created—who is the foundation and purpose of the social life which the law must serve.

4. The centrality of the human person in law is effectively expressed by the classical aphorism: "Hominum causa omne ius constitutum est". This means that law is such if and to the extent to which it is based on man in his truth. Who does not see that this basic principle of every just legal system is being seriously threatened by reductive conceptions of man's essence and dignity, such as those inspired by immanentism and agnosticism? Similar concepts, in the century about to end, have given rise to the legalization of serious violations of human rights, particularly, the right to life.

Objective truth about man and his dignity

On the occasion of the juridical "Symposium" to mark the 10th anniversary of the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law, I observed that "just as man, redeemed by Christ and constituted a person in the Church by Baptism 'with duties and rights proper to Christians, in keeping with their condition', ... is at the centre of the canonical system, so too civil societies are invited by the Church's example to put the human person at the centre of their legal systems, never departing from the demands of natural law so as not to fall into the arbitrariness of false ideologies. The demands of the natural law are indeed valid for every place and for every people, today and always, because they are the dictates of recta ratio, wherein lies the essence of natural law as St. Thomas explains: 'Every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature' (Veritatis splendor, I-II, q. 95). Classical thought had already grasped this, as Cicero expressed it: 'True law is indeed right reason according to nature imparted to all, constant, everlasting calling to duty by commanding and deterring from crime by forbidding; however it neither commands nor forbids the upright without effect, nor does it move the wicked by its commands or prohibitions' (De re publica, 3, 33: Lact., Inst., VI, 8, 6-9)" (AAS 86 [1994;, 248, L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 28 April 1993, p. 6).

5. The constitutive elements of the objective truth about man and his dignity are deeply rooted in recta ratio, in ethics and in natural law: these are values which precede every positive legal system and which the legislation of the constitutional State must always protect, removing them from the arbitrary will of individuals and the arrogance of the powerful.

In view of atheistic humanism, which disregards or even denies the human being's essential relationship with his divine origin and his eternal destiny, it is the duty of the Christian, and especially of Pastors and theologians, to proclaim the Gospel of life in accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which, going to the heart of the problem in a lapidary phrase, stated: "In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

This urgent task is particularly incumbent on Christian jurists, spurring them to point out, in their field of competence, the intrinsic weakness of a law that excludes the transcendent dimension of the person. Indeed, the soundest foundation of every law safeguarding the inviolability, integrity and freedom of the person lies in the fact that he is created in God's image and likeness (cf. Gn 1:27).

6. In this regard, a problem which directly concerns the discussion between biologists, moralists and jurists is that of the basic rights of the person, which must be recognized in every human subject throughout his life and, in particular, from his moment of origin.

"The human being", as the Instruction Donum vitae recalls and as the Encyclical Evangelium vitae confirms, "is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life" (Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, n. 60: AAS 87 [1995], 469; cf. Instruction Donum vitae, n. 1: AAS 80 [1988], 79).

This assertion is in full harmony with the essential rights of the individual recognized and protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 3).

While distinguishing between the sciences concerned, and recognizing that the attribution of the concept of person is a philosophical issue, we must assume, as our starting point, the biological status of the embryo, which is a human individual having the qualities and dignity proper to the person.

The human embryo has basic rights, that is, it possesses indispensable constituents for a being's connatural activity to be able to take place according to its own vital principle.

The existence of the right to life as a constituent intrinsically present in the biological status of the human individual from fertilization, therefore, also constitutes nature's fixed point for the definition of the ethical and juridical status of the unborn baby.

'Frozen' embryo remains subject of rights

The legal norm in particular is called to define the juridical status of the embryo as a subject of rights, recognizing it as a biologically irrefutable fact which in itself calls for values that neither the moral nor the juridical order can ignore.

For the same reason, I consider it my duty once again to assert these inviolable rights of the human being from his conception on behalf of all the embryos which are often subjected to freezing (cryo-preservation), in many cases becoming an object of sheer experimentation or, worse, destined to programmed destruction backed by law.

Likewise, I confirm that it is gravely illicit, because of the dignity of the human person and of his having been called to life, to use methods of procreation which the Instruction Donum vitae has defined as unacceptable to moral doctrine.

The illicitness of these interventions on the origin of life and on human embryos has already been stated (cf. Instruction Donum vitae, I, 5; I1), but it is necessary that the principles on which the same moral reflection is based be taken up at the legal level.

I therefore appeal to the conscience of the world's scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of "frozen" embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons. I also call on all jurists to work so that States and international institutions will legally recognize the natural rights of the very origin of human life and will likewise defend the inalienable rights which these thousands of "frozen" embryos have intrinsically acquired from the moment of fertilization.

Government leaders themselves cannot shirk this duty, if the value of democracy, which is rooted in recognizing the inviolable rights of every human individual, is to be safeguarded at its very origins.

7. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen these brief remarks are enough to emphasize the value of your contribution for the progress not only of civil society, but first and foremost for the ecclesial community, now involved in the work of the new evangelization on the threshold of the third Christian millennium. This is the great challenge to the responsibility of believers posed by the ethical impoverishment of civil laws regarding the protection of certain aspects of human life.

The positivistic concept of law, together with ethical relativism, not only eliminates a sure reference point from civil coexistence, but degrades the person's dignity and threatens the fundamental structures of democracy. I am certain that everyone will do all he can with courage and clarity, to ensure that civil laws respect the truth of the person and his reality as an intelligent and free being, as well as his spiritual dimension and the transcendent nature of his destiny.

I deeply hope that both Symposiums in which the results of the research carried out in the respective dicasteries and academic institutions are brought together, can foster an understanding of how the Church's teaching on the relationship between ethics and law, in the light of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae, is exclusively at the service of man and society.

I also hope that through everyone's efforts the Church may bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and ... make it penetrate every part of society" (Evangelium vitae, n. 80).

With these wishes, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to all of you who have gathered here, to your assistants, and to all your loved ones.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 May 1996

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