Last updateFri, 24 Oct 2014 5pm


Part Two: New Problems Concerning Procreation

by Dr. Linda Powell, Ph.D.

The Catholic position on techniques for assisting fertility is that they are morally permissible if they respect: “the right to life and the physical integrity of every human being;” the unity of the marriage;” and the “specifically human values of sexuality.”

For the purpose of this review, we are going to focus on

  • In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos
  • Freezing embryos
  • The reduction of embryos
  • Pre-implantation diagnosis

In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos

Even in the most technically advanced centers of artificial fertilization, the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high; above 80%.  First of all, in vitro embryos which have defects are directly discarded.  Some are transferred and some are frozen.  And the technique where many are transferred even when only one child is wanted is a purely utilitarian treatment of the embryos.

The centers and the couples blithely accept the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization which vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure leads to a “weakening of the respect owed to every human being.”  Remember that God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant and the child or the young person, or the adult or the elderly person, because “He sees an impression of His own image and likeness.”

Freezing embryos

“Cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos.”  They are exposed to the serious risk of death or physical harm, since a high percentage does not survive the process of freezing and thawing.  They are placed in a situation where they are denied maternal reception and gestation and where they are susceptible to further offense and manipulation. The Catholic Church recognizes that the “thousands of frozen embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

The reduction of embryos

The transfer of multiple embryos into the mother’s womb causes a significant increase in the frequency of multiples.  This situation gives rise to so-called embryo reduction in which some of the embryos are directly exterminated.  Embryo reduction is an intentional selective abortion.  “It is the deliberate and direct elimination of one or more innocent human beings in the initial phase of their existence. . .”

Pre-implantation diagnosis

This is done in order to ensure that only embryos free from defects; those of the proper sex; and those with other desirable qualities are transferred to the womb after in vitro.  Pre-implantation diagnosis has no other goal except to destroy “defective” embryos.  It is an act of abortion and is gravely immoral.  “By treating the human embryo as mere ‘laboratory material,’ the concept itself of human dignity is also subjected to alteration and discrimination.  Such discrimination is also immoral and must be considered legally unacceptable.”  (emphasis added.)

To read the whole instruction:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/CDF-Dignitas-Personae.pdf



Part One: Anthropological, Theological and Ethical Aspects of Human Life and Procreation

by Linda Powell, Ph.D.

There are two fundamental principles that make up Part One.  However, we will be developing only one in this review.

  • “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.” (n.4) (Emphasis added.)

We know that medical science has made significant strides when it comes to understanding human life in its earliest stages of development.  Human biological structures and the process of human generation are better known.  These are certainly positive when they are used to overcome or correct pathologies or to restore the normal functioning of human procreation.  They are negative and cannot and must not be utilized when they involve the destruction of human beings or “contradict the dignity of the person or when they are used for purposes contrary to the integral good of man.” (n.4)

We must never allow the body of a human being from the very first stages of existence to be reduced to a mere group of cells.  There is a fundamental ethical criterion to evaluate all moral questions which relate to procedures involving the human embryo.  Donum vitae states, and Dignitas personae reiterates, “thus the fruit of human generation from the first moment of its existence, that is to say, from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality.”  This ethical principle should be the basis for any legislation in this area, also.

“. . .the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo give ‘a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of human life.’ ”  The question is “how could a human individual not be a human person?” During the entire life span of a human being both before and after birth, there cannot be posited either a change in nature or a gradation of moral value.  The human embryo has from the very beginning the dignity proper to a person; full anthropological and ethical status.

Beginning with n.7, there is a beautiful description of the Church’s conviction that what is human is not only received and respected by faith, but also purified, elevated and perfected.  What follows, then, is an awesome explanation of Imago Dei. 

Let me end with another wonderful quote from this part. “At every stage of his existence, man, created in the image and likeness of God, reflects “the face of His Only-begotten Son. . .This boundless and almost incomprehensible love of God for the human being reveals the degree to which the human person deserves to be loved in himself, independently of any other consideration-intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity, and so forth.  In short, human life is always a good, for it ‘is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of His presence, a trace of His glory.”


To read the whole instruction:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/CDF-Dignitas-Personae.pdf

Part Three: New Treatments which Involve the Manipulation of the Embryo

by Dr. Linda Powell, Ph.D.

In this final part of Dignitas personae, we will examine what the instruction has to say about

  • Gene Therapy,
  • Human cloning,
  • The therapeutic use of stem cells, and
  • Attempts at Hybridization


Gene Therapy

Gene therapy commonly refers to “techniques of genetic engineering applied to human beings for therapeutic purposes, that is to say, with the aim of curing genetically based diseases.”  There are two main types of therapy:  Somatic cell gene therapy and Germ line therapy.  The former seeks “to eliminate or reduce genetic defects on the level of somatic cells.”  The latter aims to “correct genetic defects present in germ line cells with the purpose of transmitting the therapeutic effects to the offspring of the individual.”

Ethically speaking, procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposed are in principle morally licit.  However, gene therapy does pose risks to the patient and should only proceed if the patient will not be harmed excessively or disproportionately to the gravity of the pathology for which a cure is being sought.  Informed consent must be required.

With regard to germ line cell therapy, “the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet, not fully controllable,” so in the present state of the research, it is not morally permissible. 

Any interventions that would introduce alterations to the gene pool, would promote a “eugenic mentality.”  It could happen that society would be divided along certain qualities and would be an offense against justice and the fundamental truth that all human beings are equal.  Finally, altering the gene pool to create a new type of human being means that man tries to take the place of the Creator.


Human Cloning

Human cloning is intrinsically evil.  It can lead to manipulation and abuses that are gravely injurious to human dignity. (n.28)

Reproductive cloning “would impose on the resulting individual a predetermined genetic identity, subjecting him to a form of biological slavery, from which it would be difficult to free himself.”  The fact that someone would take upon himself the right to determine arbitrarily the genetic makeup of another person is a grave offense to the dignity of that person. 

It must be said that to create embryos with the intention of destroying them is gravely immoral.  We must not sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends. 


The Therapeutic Use of Stem Cells

In n.31, the instruction explains what stem cells are with their basic characteristics.  For this ethical evaluation, it is necessary to consider the methods of obtaining them. 

Methods that do not cause harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit.  This is generally the case when tissues are taken from: a) an adult organism; b) the blood of the umbilical cord at the time of birth; c) fetuses who have dies of natural causes.

Obtaining stem cells from a living human embryo causes the death of a human person and consequently is gravely illicit.


Attempts at Hybridization

“Such procedures represent an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and animal genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man.” (n.33) 

Finally, for an excellent instruction of the use of Human “biological material” of illicit origin, I suggest you read parts n. 34 and n. 35 for yourself.  It is especially pertinent to parents who use vaccines for their children. 

This concludes our review of Dignitas personae.  We will continue to present the Catholic point of view of Personhood on this website.


To read the whole instruction:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/CDF-Dignitas-Personae.pdf


  • Law 1:   A person is a living physical/spiritual being created in the image of God, male and female, from their earliest moment of biological beginning until natural death.

    Law 2:   A person's right to life is inalienable regardless of age, race, sex, genetic pre-disposition, condition of dependency or biological development.

    Law 3:   A person's form, including their genome, embryo, or body can not be subjected to non-therapeutic inheritable alteration or enhancement without informed consent.

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