Last updateFri, 24 Oct 2014 5pm


Instruction, Dignitas Personae, on Certain Bioethical Questions

(A review)

Great strides have been made in biomedical research in recent years.  The last instruction on the treatment of human life, Donum vitae, was given to Catholics by the Vatican in 1987.  This instruction had not directly treated the serious questions that are arising because of advances in research since then.  Dignitas personae, is already 6 years old, and technology rapidly changes. There are things happening in the biotech industry today that this instruction doesn’t treat.  However, since it is intended to contribute to “the formation of conscience,” it is still appropriate to those of us who realize that the 21st century is full of ethical mine fields in biomedical research.  Dignitas personae was also issued to encourage biomedical research respectful of the dignity of every human being and of procreation.

Dignitas personae (the dignity of a person) opens with this title so that we are instructed that this dignity must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death and must be at the center of any ethical reflection on today’s science.  We understand that research opens up new possibilities for the treatment of disease; however the fundamental principle is the same as it has always been.  “. . .a great ‘yes’ to human life.”

This instruction, of a doctrinal nature, was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and approved by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  In order to address the scientific aspects of these questions with the principles of Christian anthropology, the CDF consulted with numerous experts in the biomedical field and the Pontifical Academy for Life.  Other sources used were the Encyclicals: Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae of John Paul II.

This instruction was intended for “all who seek the truth.” This means that anyone who demonstrates a great reverence for life will benefit from reading Dignitas personae.

The instruction has three parts:

  • Anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance,
  • New problems regarding procreation; and
  • New procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and the human genetic patrimony

If one were to read the original instruction, it would be at least 23 pages.  And, this writer encourages all to do so at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/CDF-Dignitas-Personae.pdf

For the rest of us, we are going to print the highlights in subsequent one page reviews as it pertains to the principle of Personhood in the 21st century. 

By Dr. Linda Powell