Attacks on the life and dignity of human embryos are based on a desire for power, said the recently appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) in an interview with Zenit news service this week.
Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula said that from the viewpoint of science, the “embryo is very well defended.”
“The problem is essentially of a socio-political and ideological nature and here scientific arguments don’t count.”
“It is a realm in which what counts is power and if the one who has power has no desire to dialogue or at least to reflect somewhat, then he doesn’t have much to do with other guidelines.”
Governments and other groups or individuals that want to use embryos as living human test subjects “have the ball,” he said. “That is, in the end what remains is the political weapon and the political weapon that we citizens have today is weak. Those who know politics can do much more and that is their very grave responsibility.”
The 72-year-old Spanish priest is a medical doctor, an expert in bioethics and member of Opus Dei – facts that have given hope to beleaguered pro-life advocates and PAV members who had called for the resignation of his predecessor, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. Monsignor Carrasco has held a number of prestigious positions in bioethics, including as director of the Bioethics Institute at Rome’s University of the Sacred Heart and as a member of the ethics committee for the experimentation clinic at the Gemelli Policlinic of Rome.
He told Zenit that the moral defence of the embryo, based as it is in Natural Law philosophy, “precedes” Christian culture, and that the concept of a “right” to abortion is a product of a “relativistic logic.”
“This does not mean that no one ever thought of aborting. The sin has always existed. We all know that we cannot steal and yet, in many cultures and at all times there has been stealing.”
John Smeaton, director of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Europe’s leading pro-life organization, welcomed the remarks by Carrasco, saying, “This is fighting talk and it’s good to hear.”
Despite his strong language on embryos, however, Msgr. Carrasco backed away from making any definitive statements on another key bioethics issue, that of the so-called “brain death” criteria for organ transplantation. He called it “a subject that I do not now like to treat because it generates controversies in some sectors.”
In February last year, some senior Vatican prelates attended a conference in Rome in which speakers on neurology, law and philosophy demolished the “brain death” criteria, calling it little more than direct killing of patients by removal of their organs. Despite the attendance of Francis Cardinal Arinze, then-head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sergio Cardinal Sebastiani, the President Emeritus of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, the independent brain death conference was attended by no representatives of the PAV.
The PAV was, however, a joint sponsor of a large international conference on organ transplantation held in Rome in November 2009, at which no speaker raised the moral and ethical questions surrounding “brain death” criteria. PAV officials declined to respond to the hundreds of letters from dismayed pro-life advocates around the world, including some of its own members, protesting its involvement in the transplant conference.
Msgr. Carrasco said that the work of the PAV, a Vatican body that advises the pope on bioethical issues, will focus in the future on post-abortion syndrome: not on answering whether it exists, which is taken as a given, but on its nature. He also said there would be work done on umbilical cord banks, a growing field in which stem cells are stored from birth for later therapeutic use.