» 11/07/2008, 00.00
The “ethic of giving”, not market principles or abuses should rule organ transplants, says Pope
Respect for people should come first. Organ trafficking is an “abomination” and so is the idea that embryos can be treated as “therapeutic material”. Organs ought to be removed only from deceased donors, allaying all suspicions of arbitrariness in the process.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Organ transplant represents an important progress in medical science and for this reason must be supported, but it must also respect an “ethics of giving”—any arbitrariness or utilitarian argument based on the “abomination” of organ trafficking must be rejected. This is the Church’s position vis-à-vis organ transplants as laid out by Benedict XVI in his address to an international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of life in co-operation with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Italy’s “National Transplant Centre, on the subject of a ‘Gift for Life: Considerations on organ donation’, currently under way in Rome.
Organ donation is first of all “a peculiar form to bear witness to charity.” Likewise transplants “represent a great step forward for medical science and are certainly a sign of hope for so many people who are in grave conditions, sometimes in a very bad clinical state. If we look more broadly around the world it is easy to see so many complex cases in which, thanks to organ transplant technology, a lot of people have been able to overcome very critical circumstances and get back their joie de vie.”
But as the need for organs rises dramatically, we must “reflect upon this scientific innovation so that higher demand does not subvert the ethical principles that underpin it.”
The first principle, the Pope said, is that “the [human] body cannot be treated as a mere object; otherwise market principles would prevail. The body of very individual, along with the spirit which is given individually, constitutes an indissoluble unit in which God’s image is engraved. To disregard this aspect leads to attitudes that cannot seize the whole mystery within each of us. It is therefore necessary to put in first place the respect for human dignity and protection of personal identity.”
“As for organ transplant technology, it follows that giving can be done only if one does not endanger one’s own health and identity and always for a moral and proportionate reason. Eventually discriminatory or utilitarian principles and organ trading would go against the sense that giving implies and would disqualify itself ipso facto and become a morally illicit act.”
“Abuses in transplants and trafficking, which often affect the innocent like children, must find the scientific and medical communities steadfastly united against such unacceptable practices, which must be decisively condemned as an abomination. And this same ethical principle must be reiterated when it comes to the creation and destruction of human embryos for therapeutic purposes. The simple idea of considering an embryo as “therapeutic material” contradicts the cultural, civil and ethical foundations on which human dignity rests.”
Within the area of “transplant technology” Benedict XVI also stressed the importance of “informed consent” as a “precondition of freedom so that transplants have the nature of a gift and are not interpreted as acts of coercion or exploitation.”
For the Church organs can only be removed from the deceased whose “dignity must be respected. [Indeed] science in recent years has achieved further progress in ascertaining death in a patient. It is therefore a good idea that results be agreed upon by the entire scientific community so as to favour solutions where there is certainty for all.”
“In an area like this, no one should have suspicions about possible arbitrariness, and where there is no certainty, the precautionary principle should prevail". In any event, “the main standard must always be respect for the donor’s life so that organ removal is only allowed when actual death has been confirmed.”
Organ recipients must be conscious that they are getting “a gift that goes beyond its therapeutic benefit. Before it is an organ what they receive is in fact a witness of love, and this must arouse an equally generous response so as to enhance the culture of giving freely.”
“Until science develops new and improved therapeutic practices, the main path to follow is to develop and spread a culture of solidarity that is open to all and closed to none. Transplant techniques that respect the ethic of giving require all sides to make every possible effort to train and inform so as to raise more people’s awareness about a problem that directly affects the lives of so many people. Consequently, it is important to avoid biases and misunderstandings, overcome diffidence and fear, and replace them with certainties and guarantees so as to create in everyone an ever-greater awareness of the great gift of life.”
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