NEW FRONTIERS OF GENETICS AND THE DANGERS OF EUGENICS
VATICAN CITY, 17 FEB 2009 (VIS) - In the Holy See Press Office this morning, a press conference was held to present a forthcoming academic congress entitled: "New frontiers of genetics and the dangers of eugenics". The congress, promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life for the occasion of its twenty-fifth general assembly, is due to take place in the Vatican's New Synod Hall on 20 and 21 February.
Participating in today's presentation were Archbishop Rino Fisichella and Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, respectively president and chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Bruno Dallapiccola, professor of genetic medicine at Rome's "La Sapienza" University.
"The congress will be attended", Archbishop Fisichella explained, "by scientists from a number of universities, who will examine the question from various points of view: from the strictly biomedical to the legal; from the philosophical and theological to the sociological".
"Thanks to the great work undertaken over the last ten years, above all that of Francis Collins on the Human Genome Project, it is possible to map thousands of genes and thus achieve an understanding of various types of disease; this often offers a real possibility of overcoming heredity ailments".
"The aim of this congress is to verify whether, in the field genetic experimentation, there are aspects that tend towards - or effectively implement - eugenic practices", said the archbishop. 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".
"Such a mentality, which is certainly reductive but does exist, tends to consider that some people are 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 the disabled, the mentally ill, people in a 'vegetative state', or the elderly who suffer serious disease".
"Not always do the requirements of medical science meet with the approval philosophers or theologians", said the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. "If, on the one hand, certain people frequently succumb to the temptation to consider the body in purely material terms, on the other, a concern to ensure the fundamental unity of each individual ... is something that must not be marginalised or overlooked".
"Of course research aimed at alleviating individual suffering must increase and develop", he concluded, "yet at the same time we are called to ensure the increase and development of an ethical conscience, without which all achievements would remain limited and incomplete".
The Human Genome Project "is one of the great undertakings of the beginning of this new millennium", said Msgr. Carrasco in his remarks. "If for medicine, and not only for medicine, a knowledge of the human genome is absolutely essential, it is equally important to identify its ethical, legal and social consequences", he added.
"Today", said the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, "eugenics represents the principal discriminatory utilisation to which the discoveries of genetic science can be put. This is what the congress aims 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".
In his comments Professor Dallapiccola indicated that "the proliferation of genomic analyses is destined not only to make people's lives more dependent on medicine, but also to transform the role of doctors. ... The post-genome era risks producing a further involution of the figure of the doctor, who is perhaps destined to become a 'genomicist', in other words a specialist in interpreting the sophisticated data emerging from some highly-technological instrument".
"We must", he concluded, "take a critical stance, both towards 'reductionists' who believe the sequence of the human genome is sufficient to clarify the meaning of human life, and towards 'determinists' who hold that they can predict people's biological destiny, simply be examining their DNA".
OP/CONGRESS GENETICS EUGENICS/FISICHELLA VIS 090217 (710)