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Official Catholic Church Teaching


The following Church letters and instructions pertain to reproductive issues and the sanctity of human life:

Humanae Vitae

Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Regulation of Birth (July 25, 1968)

Donum Vitae

Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (February 22, 1987)

Evangelium Vitae

To the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women religious, lay Faithful, and all People of Good Will on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life (March 25, 1995)

Charter for Health Care Workers

Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers (1995)

Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (September 8, 2008)


Excerpts from Humanae Vitae, Donum Vitae, and Evangelium Vitae and Charter for Health Care Workers:

"In moral evaluation a distinction must be made between strictly <therapeutic> manipulation, which aims to cure illnesses caused by genetic or chromosome anomalies (genetic therapy), from manipulation <altering> the human genetic patrimony. A curative intervention, which is also called "genetic surgery," will be considered desirable in principle, provided its purpose is the real promotion of the personal well-being of the individual, without damaging his integrity or worsening his condition of life." -- Charter for Health Care Workers (CHCW), 12

"On the other hand, interventions which are not directly curative, the purpose of which is 'the production of human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities,' which change the genotype of the individual and of the human species, 'are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being, to his integrity and to his identity. Therefore they can be in no way justified on the pretext that they will produce some beneficial results for humanity in the future,' 'no social or scientific usefulness and no ideological purpose could ever justify an intervention on the human genome unless it be therapeutic, that is its finality must be the natural development of the human being.'" - CHCW, 12

"In any case, this type of intervention 'should not prejudice the beginnings of human life, that is, procreation linked to not only the biological but also the spiritual union of the parents, united in the bond of matrimony.'" - CHCW, 14

"The negative ethical evaluations outlined here apply to all genetic manipulatory interventions concerned with embryos. On the other hand there are no moral objections to the manipulation of human body cells for curative purposes and the manipulation of animal or vegetable cells for pharmaceutical purposes." - CHCW, 14

"The application to humans of biotechnology learned from animal fertilization has made possible various interventions in human procreation, giving rise to serious questions of moral lawfulness. 'The various <techniques of artificial reproduction>, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life.'" - CHCW, 21

"The desire for a child, sincere and intense though it be, by the spouses, does not legitimize recourse to techniques which are contrary to the truth of human procreation and to the dignity of the new human being. The desire for a child gives no right to have a child. The latter is a person, with the dignity of a 'subject.' As such, it cannot be desired as an 'object.' The fact is that the child is a subject of rights: the child has the right to be conceived only with full respect for its personhood." - CHCW, 25

"In the <research> stage, the ethical norm requires that its aim be to 'promote human well-being.'  Any research contrary to the true good of the person is immoral. To invest energies and resources in it contradicts the human finality of science and its progress." -CHCW, 76

"Since the human individual, in the prenatal stage, must be given the dignity of a human person, <research and experimentation on human embryos and fetuses> is subject to the ethical norms valid for the child already born and for every human subject." - CHCW, 82

"From this it follows that they [married couples] are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out." �Humanae Vitae (HV), 10

"This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act." HV, 12

"Various procedures now make it possible to intervene not only in order to assist but also to dominate the processes of procreation. These techniques can enable man to "take in hand his own destiny," but they also expose him "to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature." They might constitute progress in the service of man, but they also involve serious risks. Many people are therefore expressing an urgent appeal that in interventions on procreation the values and rights of the human person be safeguarded." Donum Vitae (DV), Intro, 1

"Thus science and technology require, for their own intrinsic meaning, an unconditional respect for the fundamental criteria of the moral law: that is to say, they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God. The rapid development of technological discoveries gives greater urgency to this need to respect the criteria just mentioned: science without conscience can only lead to man's ruin. 'Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser people are forthcoming'." -DV, Intro, 2

"Applied biology and medicine work together for the integral good of human life when they come to the aid of a person stricken by illness and infirmity and when they respect his or her dignity as a creature of God. No biologist or doctor can reasonably claim, by virtue of his scientific competence, to be able to decide on people's origin and destiny." -DV, Intro, 3

 

"For this reason marriage possesses specific goods and values in its union and in procreation which cannot be likened to those existing in lower forms of life. Such values and meanings are of the personal order and determine from the moral point of view the meaning and limits of artificial interventions on procreation and on the origin of human life. These interventions are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. As such, they bear witness to the possibilities of the art of medicine. But they must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realize his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life." -DV, Intro, 3

"Advances in technology have now made it possible to procreate apart from sexual relations through the meeting in vitro of the germ-cells previously taken from the man and the woman. But what is technically possible is not for that very reason morally admissible. Rational reflection on the fundamental values of life and of human procreation is therefore indispensable for formulating a moral evaluation of such technological interventions on a human being from the first stages of his development.+ -DV, Intro, 4

"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. 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." -DV, I.1

"For prenatal diagnosis makes it possible to know the condition of the embryo and of the foetus when still in the mother's womb. It permits, or makes it possible to anticipate earlier and more effectively, certain therapeutic, medical or surgical procedures. Such diagnosis is permissible, with the consent of the parents after they have been adequately informed, if the methods employed safeguard the life and integrity of the embryo and the mother, without subjecting them to disproportionate risks. But this diagnosis is gravely opposed to the moral law when it is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion depending upon the results: a diagnosis which shows the existence of a malformation or a hereditary illness must not be the equivalent of a death-sentence." -DV, I.2

 

"As with all medical interventions on patients, one must uphold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it but are directed towards its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival." -DV, I.3

"To use human embryos or foetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person." -DV, I.4

 

"The practice of keeping alive human embryos in vivo or in vitro for experimental or commercial purposes is totally opposed to human dignity." -DV, I.4

"Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and subjects with rights: their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable 'biological material'." -DV, I.5

"Techniques of fertilization in vitro can open the way to other forms of biological and genetic manipulation of human embryos, such as attempts or plans for fertilization between human and animal gametes and the gestation of human embryos in the uterus of animals, or the hypothesis or project of constructing artificial uteruses for the human embryo. These procedures are contrary to the human dignity proper to the embryo, and at the same time they are contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage." -DV, I.6

"Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families." DV, II.3

"Conception in vitro is the result of the technical action which presides over fertilization. Such fertilization is neither in fact achieved nor positively willed as the expression and fruit of a specific act of the conjugal union. DV, II.5

"The spread of technologies of intervention in the processes of human procreation raises very serious moral problems in relation to the respect due to the human being from the moment of conception, to the dignity of the person, of his or her sexuality, and of the transmission of life."  -DV, Conclusion


"All this explains, at least in part, how the value of life can today undergo a kind of 'eclipse,' even though conscience does not cease to point to it as a sacred and inviolable value, as is evident in the tendency to disguise certain crimes against life in its early or final stages by using innocuous medical terms which distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to life of an actual human person." - Evangelium Vitae (EV), 11


"'Without the Creator the creature would disappear.... But when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.' Man is no longer able to see himself as 'mysteriously different' from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being 'a thing,' and no longer grasps the 'transcendent' character of his 'existence as man.' He no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something 'sacred' entrusted to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and "veneration." Life itself becomes a mere 'thing', which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation." -EV, 22


"The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.' "EV, 42


"Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open and generous hearts to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus we shall learn not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere life, to love it and to foster it." -EV, 51


"Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?" - EV, 60


"Special attention must be given to evaluating the morality of prenatal diagnostic techniques which enable the early detection of possible anomalies in the unborn child. In view of the complexity of these techniques, an accurate and systematic moral judgment is necessary. When they do not involve disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and are meant to make possible early therapy or even to favour a serene and informed acceptance of the child not yet born, these techniques are morally licit. But since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the parameters of 'normality' and physical well-being, thus opening the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well." -EV, 63