Today, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the CDF is issuing the Instruction Dignitatis Personae, concerning many important issues relevant to life sciences. Fittingly, it bears a date of 8 September 2008, the Feast of the Birth of Our Lady.
In recent years, biomedical research has made great strides, opening new possibilities for the treatment of disease, but also giving rise to serious questions which had not been directly treated in the Instruction Donum vitae (22 February 1987). A new Instruction, which is dated 8 September 2008, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, seeks to provide some responses to these new bioethical questions, as these have been the focus of expectations and concerns in large sectors of society. In this way, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seeks both to contribute “to the formation of conscience” (n. 10) and to encourage biomedical research respectful of the dignity of every human being and of procreation.
The Instruction opens with the words Dignitas personae – the dignity of a person, which must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses “a great ‘yes’ to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research” (n. 1).
The document is an Instruction of a doctrinal nature, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and expressly approved by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The Instruction therefore falls within the category of documents that “participate in the ordinary Magisterium of the successor of Peter” (Instruction Donum veritatis, n.18), and is to be received by Catholics “with the religious assent of their spirit” (Dignitas personae, n. 37).
For several years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been studying new biomedical questions with a view to updating the Instruction Donum vitae. In undertaking the examination of such new questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “has benefited from the analysis of the Pontifical Academy for Life and has consulted numerous experts with regard to the scientific aspects of these questions, in order to address them with the principles of Christian anthropology. The EncyclicalsVeritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae of John Paul II, as well as other interventions of the Magisterium, offer clear indications with regard to both the method and the content of the examination of the problems under consideration” (n. 2).
Intended recipients of the document
The Instruction is meant for “all who seek the truth” (n. 3). Indeed, in presenting principles and moral evaluations regarding biomedical research on human life, the Catholic Church “draws upon the light both of reason and of faith and seeks to set forth an integral vision of man and his vocation, capable of incorporating everything that is good in human activity, as well as in various cultural and religious traditions which not infrequently demonstrate a great reverence for life” (n. 3).
The Instruction has three parts: “the first recalls some anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance; the second addresses new problems regarding procreation; the third examines new procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and the human genetic patrimony” (n. 3).