April 24, 2024

New pope unlikely to change bioethics stand

Judging from his 2011 book Sobre Cielo y Tierra, the new Pope’s stand on bioethical issues is fully in sync with his predecessors.

New Pope pays hotel bill

The media was awash this week with the news of the firsts clocked up by the new head of the Catholic Church. The presence of 6,500 journalists from all over the world to cover the conclave suggests that the Vatican still has some clout in world affairs. Argentinian Jorge Bergoglio is the first from Latin America, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, the first Jesuit, the first from outside Europe for 1300 years. “Even non-believers and non-Catholics should care about the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis,” says The Economist.

But judging from his 2011 book Sobre Cielo y Tierra (On heaven and earth), a series of conversations on contemporary issues with an Argentinian rabbi, Pope Francis’s stand on bioethical issues is fully in sync with his predecessors. Here are a few paragraphs (in our own very unofficial translation).

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Catholic morality says that one must do what is needed, the ordinary things, for someone whose life is drawing to a close. Quality of life should be assured. The power of medicine for terminal cases is not fundamentally in making someone live three days longer or two months longer, but in ensuring that the organism suffers as little as possible. One is not obliged to preserve life with extraordinary means. That can go against the dignity of the person.

Euthanasia is something different; it is killing. I believe that nowadays there is a hidden euthanasia: the health services pay up to a certain level of treatment and then they say “may God look after you”. An elderly person is not cared for as he or she ought to be and ends up on a scrap heap. Sometimes the patient is deprived of medicine and ordinary care and that kills them….

In Catholic moral teaching, no one is obliged to use extraordinary means to get better. We are talking about hanging onto a life which one knows is no longer a life. As long as recovery is possible, we do all that we can. But it is proper to use extraordinary means only if there is some hope of recovery.


The moral problem of abortion is of a pre-religious nature because the genetic code is written in a person at the moment of conception. A human being is there. I separate the topic of abortion from any specifically religious notions. It is a scientific problem. Not to allow the further development of a being which already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.


Science has its own autonomy and it must be respected and encouraged. We should not meddle with scientists’ autonomy. Unless, that is, they step outside the boundaries of their own fields and step into the transcendent. Science is fundamentally a tool for the commandment received from God which says, increase, multiply and dominate the earth. Within its autonomy, science transforms a world without culture into a world with culture. But we must take care. When the autonomy of science is unaware of its own limits and steps out of bounds, its own creation can slip from its hands. This is the story of Frankenstein.

Michael Cook
Creative commons
Catholic Church