April 24, 2024

Pope defends human dignity as foundation of bioethics

Catholic views under attack
The Catholic Church’s
stand on medical ethics has come under attack in the US in recent weeks after
American bishops backed the Vatican ban on IVF for fertility treatment and the
necessity of providing nutrition and hydration for comatose patients. “It will be a sorry day if American patients seeking the best medical
care are forced to avoid Catholic hospitals for fear of having their living
wills ignored or their doctors’ counsel dictated from Rome. The Church would be
wise to focus its energies on theology and to leave the practice of medicine to
the professionals,” wrote free
lance bioethicist Jacob M. Appel
in the Huffington Post.

However, instead of
knuckling under, Pope Benedict XVI has been firing up the troops. In a major
speech in Rome, he stressed the importance of bioethics as “a particularly crucial battleground in today’s cultural struggle
between the absolutism of technology and human moral responsibility”. He placed
the controversial notion of “human dignity” at the centre of Catholic

“Without the foundational principle of
human dignity it would be difficult to find a source for the rights of the
person and the impossible to arrive at an ethical judgment if the face of the
conquests of science that intervene directly in human life. It is thus
necessary to repeat with firmness that an understanding of human dignity does
not depend on scientific progress, the gradual formation of human life or
facile pietism before exceptional situations. When respect for the dignity of
the person is invoked it is fundamental that it be complete, total and with no
strings attached, except for those of understanding oneself to be before a
human life.”

However, he does not ground his bioethics
upon Catholic theology but upon the natural moral law which “belongs to the
great heritage of human wisdom”. Without an objective standard for forming
moral judgements, he stated, human life could become “an object subjugated to
the will of the strongest”. ~ Zenit,
Feb 14

Michael Cook
Benedict XVI
human dignity