Catholic Church Again Refuses to Support Contemporary Families

On Friday, December 12, the Vatican released a document on bioethics, Dignitas Personae (Dignity of the Person), which showed how the
Catholic hierarchy is once again on the wrong side of science and the
needs of contemporary society. While there was little new in the
statement, the document reconfirmed the Vatican’s condemnation of
artificial reproductive technologies and also said human cloning,
designer babies and embryonic stem-cell research are all immoral. It
remains difficult to reconcile the Vatican’s self-avowed prolife
approach with the rejection of in-vitro fertilization and embryo
freezing, not to mention the condemnation of the potential of stem-cell
research. As our scientists use ground-breaking technology to find
treatments to diseases that have endured for centuries, they need our
support, not the condemnation put forth by the Vatican.

We know that Catholics are as likely to suffer from fertility
problems as is the rest of the population and they should have the
support of their hierarchy as they pursue parenthood. Catholics also
understand the potential of embryonic stem-cell research, and support
it in large numbers. A poll we carried out during the summer found that
almost seven in ten Catholics in the US favor stem-cell research with
early human embryos (69 percent). A similar number support decoupling
science from religion, rejecting the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to
influence scientific endeavor. An even larger proportion (73 percent)
say they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious obligation
to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. This may be an issue
during the coming administration if Congress is asked to vote on
whether to extend federal funding for such vital research.

It is true that the Catholic hierarchy has had a long and public
battle with science and scientists over the centuries. What’s perhaps
less well known is the fact that despite these battles, various
elements of the Catholic church have a long and well respected
reputation for supporting scientific endeavor. Church teachings not only allow but encourage adherents to the Catholic faith to support and promote scientific discovery. We
need that aspect of the church to step forward now, and show the world
that Catholicism and scientific progress can work in harmony to help
develop the cures we need to deal with disease and infertility.  

A famous Catholic scientist, John Rock, had some sage words for the
Catholic bishops. Rock, who was the co-inventor of the contraceptive
pill, received a letter from an angry conservative. "You should be
afraid to meet your Maker," she wrote soon after the pill was approved.
"My dear madam," Rock replied, "in my faith, we are taught that the
Lord is with us always. When my time comes, there will be no need for
introductions." Rock was also a pioneer in in-vitro fertilization and
the freezing of sperm cells, and was the first to extract an intact
fertilized egg. Here clearly was a man who did much to promote life and
the dignity of the individual. Now that is something that all good
Catholics can support.

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  • invalid-0

    While I very much appreciate Mr O’Brien’s even and courteous tone and his obvious desire to avoid caricaturing Catholics as a whole, his impatience with the Vatican’s recent statement seems to have prevented him from seeing its utter consistency.

    An organization that is committed to the dignity of human life has little choice but to object to freezing and discarding embryos. Mr O’Brien’s point, I suppose, is that freezing and eventually attempting to bring embryos to term is a pro-life action; fair enough, if they are brought to term. Many are discarded; not pro-life at all. That, and the Vatican’s wish to avoid commodifying human life by separating it too dramatically from sexual intercourse, is the point of its position.

    Similarly, whatever the potential of embryonic stem-cell research – and it remains purely potential, as to my knowledge no significant progress has yet been made towards any treatment of note as a result of such research – if it is built on the mistreatment of human lives it can only be a tragic and even Pyrrhic victory if, ex hypothesi, breakthroughs ever do come along.

    It is not true that the Catholic hierarchy has had a long and public battle with science and scientists over the centuries; but this stand against one particular application of science needs to be honoured as a consistent defence of human dignity.

    Thanks for your time.

  • scott-swenson

    RB: Not sure on what you base your comment that “It is not true that the Catholic hierarchy has had a long and public battle with science and scientists over the centuries”, but I am certain that you are engaging that battle against science in your comment. I guess I’m just not sure if you are part of the hierarchy. IVF treatments have brought many children to loving parents and while you may disregard the scientific advancements research is producing right now from stem cell research, the fact is they are happening and over time will produce more medical breakthroughs. You seem to suggest we should just stay put, right where we are, fixed in time atop this flat earth and never go looking for progress. Some in the church argued that very point, while others went exploring. Isn’t it more precise to suggest that within each of us is the capacity to do good, or bad, and that what we create as humans is ultimately a revelation from God (if you believe) because those who devote themselves to research and science ultimately pursue higher intelligence, and with their life’s works produce results that help others. We can’t stop progress, but we can bring wisdom to our human governance — and in the process continue to move forward and experience life in new ways.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    “Some in the church argued that very point” – who exactly? Do you have fresh evidence that the Church opposed the notion of a spherical earth, or are you merely repeating the discredited canard that Columbus’ opposition came from ecclesiastical flat-earthers?

    The Vatican’s position – for which I hold no professional brief, as I am not a member of the hierarchy or clergy (I am mystified why you would drag a thoroughly unfounded hint like that into your entry…) – has nothing at all to do with being for or against science. It would be interesting to learn as much as we can about subatomic particles; it would not be an antiscientific animus to object if human beings were needed as fuel for the accelerator to acquire such knowledge.

    By all means let us learn all we can about the causes and possible cures of Parkinson’s and all the other afflictions that burden us; but drawing the line at experimenting on or using human life as the raw material is no hostility to science. If human life is expendable at the embryonic stage, why bother preserving it or curing it at any other stage?

  • invalid-0


    It took the Church until the _late 20th century_ to admit that yes, Virginia, the Earth _does_ revolve around the sun.

    “No war on science by the Church?” Puh-LEEEEZE!!!

  • invalid-0

    …not only members of the so-called “hierarchy.” According to the BBC, (which last I checked was NOT part of the “hierarchy”):

    The potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research have probably been oversold to the public, fertility expert Lord Winston says.
    He fears a backlash if science fails to deliver on some of the “hype” around the cells – as he believes may happen.

    He says the notion that a host of cures for serious, degenerative disorders are just around the corner is fanciful.


  • invalid-0

    The Catholic Church is the only philosophically and logically consistent voice on human life and dignity in our present age. Jon O’Brien’s basic argument is that the Catholic Church is against science because it opposes the unbridled use of science for any purpose whatsover. Science as a discipline is constructed to learn how the world works, but science itself is incapable within its own discipline of determining the ethics of the application of that knowledge. That is why we have ethics as a discipline. Haven’t we learned from nuclear weapons that simply because we CAN do something doesn’t mean that we SHOULD do it? Those who argue for embryonic stem cell research do so on the basis that it will help cure people. Even if that were true (and it is far from proven), that is not the point. This is a clear example of the classic argument that the end does not justify the means. Until we get over our torrid love affair with technology for its own sake, we will never see clearly the ethics of the use of technology.

  • invalid-0

    I salute the Dignitas Personae and I hope and pray that the victims of these procedures get a voice!

    Over 3,000,000 IVFs have been performed but the amount of IVF Fraud Cases have not being properly recorded and reported.

    Please sign my petition and pass it on.

  • invalid-0

    …noun – “catholic” and “Church” are the adjectives of the phrase “Roman Catholic Church.” There was a reason Latin was the only language of the Catholic Mass until recent history: it was the language of an Empire. Even after there were no more Caesars, there was still a sizable part of land in Europe known as the “Holy Roman Empire.” Today, the geopolitical vestige of that Empire is Vatican City within Rome, but it counts over 1-billion subjects/troops worldwide, so concerned with the assaults upon it by liberals and Muslims that it will on occassion will make nice with Protestants and the random Jew. It’s safe to say the Empire would rather see future recruits arrive in this world, the old-fashioned way and attribute (blame) all failures of implantation to God’s will, since God never protests. Dignitas Personae is just more propoganda from the people who began the first Ministry of Propoganda!

  • invalid-0

    You did not state clearly enough why you had to aver that “…the dignitatis personae…showed how the Catholic hierarchy is once again on the wrong side of science and the needs of contemporary society.” when the very first words of the document read thus: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses a great “yes” to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, has an ever greater importance in today’s world.” I would humbly suggest that whoever reads the document eschews personal prejudices about things and persons in order to pass adequate comments.

  • invalid-0

    You mention that 69% of catholic americans support stem-cell research, has there been any research done with Catholics worldwide? Or even in other countries or the EU?

  • invalid-0

    …institutions around, we should infer it has great difficulty changing its course. As another post reminded us, it took centuries for the Vatican to admit it was wrong, not only about Galileo’s astronomy work, but its treatment of Galileo’s theories as being heresy. Showing any response to the German Holocaust, in which 11-million people were killed, within 100 years of the act is lightning-fast as far as this bunch goes. It will take at least another century for the Vatican to change the direction of the dignity of human life, because if it were to emphasize treatment of the elderly, rather than the sperm, what it would want for what it considers everyone in-between would swiftly fall into place. Let’s see it deny Communion to politicians who do not make the Golden Years of their citizens truly golden!