On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has released a new magisterial document titled Dignitas Personae (“The dignity of a person”). I have not yet been able to find an English language version but I did find some excerpts released from the Holy See’s Press Office today (December 12, 2008). The Press Office made it clear that Dignitas Personae is part of the ordinary Magisterium of Christ’s Church.
The document is an Instruction of a doctrinal nature, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and expressly approved by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The Instruction therefore falls within the category of documents that “participate in the ordinary Magisterium of the successor of Peter” (Instruction Donum veritatis, No. 18), and is to be received by Catholics “with the religious assent of their spirit” (Dignitas personae, No. 37).
The Press Office also noted that the intended recipients of Dignitas Personae are not limited to Catholics but extend to “all who seek the truth” (No. 3).
- The two fundamental principles
- Faith and human dignity
- Faith and married life
- The Church’s Magisterium and the legitimate autonomy of science
- Techniques for assisting fertility
- In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
- Freezing embryos
- The freezing of oocytes (N.B. paz: i.e. the germ cells)
- The reduction of embryos Preimplantation diagnosis
- New forms of interception and contragestation
- Gene therapy Human cloning
- The therapeutic use of stem cells
- Attempts at hybridization
- The use of human “biological material” of illicit origin
“In order to avoid repeatedly taking oocytes from the woman’s body, the process involves a single intervention in which multiple oocytes are taken, followed by cryopreservation of a considerable number of the embryos conceived in vitro. In this way, should the initial attempt at achieving pregnancy not succeed, the procedure can be repeated or additional pregnancies attempted at a later date” (No. 18). The freezing or cryopreservation of embryos “refers to freezing them at extremely low temperatures, allowing long term storage” (cf. footnote 35).
“Cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos; it presupposes their production in vitro; it exposes them to the serious risk of death or physical harm, since a high percentage does not survive the process of freezing and thawing; it deprives them at least temporarily of maternal reception and gestation; it places them in a situation in which they are susceptible to further offense and manipulation” (No. 18).
Photo: By Spencer Sutton, United States ( 2008 International Photography Contest , National Geographic)
With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them? All the answers that have been proposed (use the embryos for research or for the treatment of disease; thaw them without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers; put them at the disposal of infertile couples as a “treatment for infertility”; allow a form of “prenatal adoption”) present real problems of various kinds. It needs to be recognized “that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore, John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons” (No. 19).