02/17/2009, 00.00
VATICAN
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Eugenics progressing in the name of “normality”, says Vatican

For Mgr Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, good advertising backed by big economic interests has led to the view that some people are less valuable than others because of their living conditions like poverty or because of their physical state, people like the disabled, the mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease. For him hydration and feeding are not therapy.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – No one can decide what a “normal” life. Yet breakthroughs in genetics, as positive as they might be, are giving rise to the idea that “some people are less valuable than others”, because of the conditions in which they live, such as poverty or lack of education, or because of their physical state, for example people who are disabled, mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease. Eugenics, a word no one uses because of its association with experiments carried out by the Nazis, will be the subject upon which the Pontifical Academy for Life will reflect in a congress that was presented in the Vatican today titled ‘New frontiers of genetics and the dangers of eugenics,’ set to take place next Saturday and Sunday.

Genetic breakthroughs, resulting from technological progress, have, said Mgr Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has effects on the diagnostic and therapeutic fields. But “the danger that genetics might drift [in the wrong direction] is not mere theoretical. Sadly it belongs to an outlook that is slowly but inexorably spreading.”

“Eugenics was once thought to be a thing of the past. Just mentioning the word still evokes horror. But as it is often the case, underlying dangers have been lost from sight as a result of a subtle linguistic formalism coupled with advertising backed by big economic interests. An outlook that can no longer recognise objective evil and formulate corresponding ethical views is the result. Thus, whilst the word eugenics has no place in democratic societies that in principle are respectful of human rights, the idea has for all intents and purpose found its way back into our consciousness without much angst.”

For Monsignor Fisichella, eugenics today shows the “reassuring face of those who want to physically improve the human species.” Such practices “find expression in various scientific, biological, medical, social and political projects, all of them more or less interrelated. These projects require an ethical judgement, especially when it is sought to suggest that eugenic practices are being undertaken in the name of a 'normality' of life to offer to individuals, which still needs to be defined and requires undisputable ways to determine who can claim the power to establish the rules and purpose of a person’s ‘normal’ life. Whatever the case, such an outlook exists, however short-sighted it may be, and tends to view that some people as 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 people who are disabled, mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease.”

In answering a question about the Eluana Englaro case, Monsignor Fisichella reiterated the view that when it comes to people in “vegetative state” we must “distinguish between the medical act of inserting the tube” and the processes of “hydration and feeding which we view as therapies.” Since water and food “are basic elements in a person’s life, we believe they must be guaranteed” and cannot be considered “futile medical care”.

“Of course,” he said, “research must continue in order to alleviate pain. At the same time though, our ethical consciousness must be raised. Without it any breakthrough would not be complete and would never be at the complete disposal of those who want a fully human life. For this reason it must always open to a transcendence that goes beyond and yet embraces it.”

“Eugenics,” said Mgr Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, “represents the main discriminatory use to which discoveries in genetic science can be put. This is what the congress wants to examine. Obviously, the main objective is to call people's attention to the considerable benefits we may obtain from genetic research if, as seems correct and appropriate, it attracts the efforts of researchers and public and private investments, while overcoming any temptation to follow the deceptive shortcuts presented by eugenics.”

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