VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As medical science and biotechnology develop at an ever-increasing pace, they risk becoming concerned solely with what is useful and profitable without any moral limits, Pope Francis said.
Biotechnology in the medical field must “never be used in a way that is harmful to human dignity nor driven only by manufacturing and commercial aims,” he said in an audience Jan. 28 with members of the Italian National Bioethics Committee. The committee addresses the ethical and legal consequences of scientific research and helps prepare Italian legislation.
The field of bioethics is about serving all people, he said, but it must pay particular attention to and care for those who are “the weakest and most disadvantaged, who struggle to make their voices heard or who cannot yet or can no longer make their voice be heard.”
The church and governments are called to collaborate in this field, according to their respective and distinct responsibilities, he said.
The basic ethical principle of regarding the human person as an end and never as a means is fundamental for biotech applications in medicine, too, he said.
“Bioethics was founded in order to weigh — through critical effort — the reasons and conditions demanded by the person’s human dignity against the developments of science, and biological and medical technologies,” he said.
Because of the fast pace of these developments and technologies, he said, “they risk losing every reference that is not useful or profitable.”
The pope encouraged the committee members to fight a “throwaway culture” that treats the sick, the dying elderly and “human embryos as disposable material.”
He urged them to focus on the subject of “disability and the marginalization of vulnerable subjects in a society that revolves around competition and the acceleration of progress.”
He also asked they conduct an “interdisciplinary analysis of the causes of environmental degradation.”
“I hope that the committee may formulate guidelines in the fields of biological science in order to stimulate action on the conservation, preservation and care of the environment,” he said.
Ecological approaches need to “recognize the correct centrality of mankind in respect to other living beings and the whole environment,” especially in order to help figure out what the “indispensable conditions for the protection of future generations” may be.
The pope said when he once talked to a scientist about the world’s future generations, the scientist, who was “a bit disheartened and skeptical,” asked the pope worriedly, “Tell me, father, will there be any?”
The third thing the pope asked the committee to work on was promoting an international “harmonization of standards and rules for biological and medical activities — rules capable of recognizing fundamental values and rights.”