Vatican Congress Will Explore Genetics and Eugenics

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

The Vatican announced today that it plans to host an academic conference to explore the ethical, legal and social implications of new discoveries in genetics, and how some of these processes might be used to practice eugenics.

The congress, to be held Feb. 20-21, is entitled “New Frontiers of Genetics and the Dangers of Eugenics” and is being promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“The congress will be attended by scientists from a number of universities, who will examine the question from various points of view: from the strictly biomedical to the legal; from the philosophical and theological to the sociological,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy, at a Feb. 17 press conference.

Archbishop Fisichella acknowledged one of the greatest works of the last decade, the Human Genome Project, which makes it possible to map thousands of genes, thus increasing our understanding of  various types of diseases, particularly hereditary ailments.

However, some of these advances are being used for eugenic purposes, such as in the increasingly popular procedure known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

PGD is used by parents who are afraid of passing on the genes of a certain disease to their children. Scientists create their embryos in a laboratory, then subject them to PGD to discover which embryos have the gene and which do not. Embryos that have the gene are destroyed while those without it are implanted in the mother.

This is why advances such as human genome mapping “require an ethical judgement, especially when  . . . eugenic practices are being undertaken in the name of a ‘normality’ of life to offer to individuals,” Archbishop Fisichella said.

“Such a mentality . . . tends to consider that some people are less valuable than others, either because of the conditions in which they live, such as poverty or lack of education, or because of their physical state, for example the disabled, the mentally ill, people in a ‘vegetative state’, or the elderly who suffer serious disease.”

He went on to say that research aimed at alleviating individual suffering must increase and develop, “yet at the same time we are called to ensure the increase and development of an ethical conscience, without which all achievements would remain limited and incomplete.”

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