Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 2, 2009
Pope warns of new genetic discrimination
BY JOHN THAVIS
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict praised modern discoveries in the field of genetics, but warned of new and subtle efforts to discriminate against people with genetic defects or illnesses.
“Any discrimination carried out by any power against persons, populations or ethnic groups on the basis of real or presumed genetic factors is an attack against all humanity,” the pope said.
He made the remarks in a speech Feb. 21 to participants of an international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the topic The New Frontiers of Genetics and the Risk of Eugenics.
The pope said genetic research had taken giant steps in recent years, opening new horizons for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and giving new hope to many people.
But he said the advances were sometimes accompanied by a tendency to reduce human beings to their genetic makeup.
“Man will always be greater than all that which makes up his body; in fact, he possesses the power of thought, which is always directed toward the truth about himself and about the world,” he said.
MORE THAN GENETICS
“Every human being, therefore, is much more than the singular combination of genetic information that is transmitted to him by parents,” he said.
The pope said the risk of eugenics, which aims to improve the human species by selective breeding, is no longer found in the racist ideologies of state regimes, but rather in a mentality that tends to value human life for its capacity for work, efficiency, physical beauty.
When a genetic defect or illness appears, from the moment of conception onward, the person’s life is often judged as “not worthy of being lived,” he said.
The pope said it should be forcefully affirmed that every person has equal dignity by virtue of being alive, and that his “biological, psychic and cultural development or state of health can never become a discriminatory element.”
He said it was especially important that these principles be applied to life at its earliest stages. In no case should human life be selected or suppressed on the basis of an abstract ideal of physical health or perfection. Society should focus on building a “culture of acceptance and love” marked by solidarity with those who suffer and the removal of barriers that are often erected against the disabled or the sick.
Trust in science must not make people forget the primacy of ethics when human life is involved, he said.