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Bioethics and UNESCO Declarations

Address by Father Michael Hull

NEW YORK, OCT. 16, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a text prepared by Father Michael Hull, a moral theologian, for an international videoconference on bioethics Sept. 27. The Vatican Congregation for Clergy organized the videoconference of theologians. The text was adapted here.

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Bioethics and UNESCO Declarations

By Father Michael Hull
New York

Bioethics is one of the hottest topics today. We are all aware of the tremendous advances in medical technology and concerned about the implementation of those advances in our world. While much hope is engendered among us in light of the potential for good, we are rightly wary of the potential for evil.

Unfortunately, the potential for evil increases in direct proportion to the opportunity for manipulation of human beings by various special-interest groups whether for financial or ideological gain, for example, totalitarian (particularly communist) governments, for-profit (particularly biomedical and pharmaceutical) corporations, and immoral (particularly pro-abortion) sociopolitical movements of every stripe.

None of us can afford to stand on the sideline with the stakes so high. Who determines good from evil, right from wrong, permissible from impermissible, or legal from illegal in global bioethics?

The United Nations has come to the fore in the debate with two documents by UNESCO, the "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights" (November 11, 1997) and the "Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights" (October 19, 2005), both of which have their foundation vis--vis human rights in the U.N.'s much earlier "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (December 10, 1948).

These two documents are the direct result of an attempt to stop exploitation of the human genome with UNESCO's establishment of the International Bioethics Committee in 1993. By that time, it had become evident that an international forum was long overdue.

The "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights" recognizes the human genome as that which "underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family" (Article 1) and insists that human dignity and respect for genetic diversity be maintained (Article 2). Moreover, it states that the human genome "shall not give rise to financial gains" (Article 4), that "practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted" (Article 11), and that human beings are to be protected from abuse, especially the "vulnerable" (Article 24 "et passim").

All of this is surely positive, but there is one salient drawback, namely, the failure to defend the right to life from conception to natural death. In the words of the late Pope John Paul II: "It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop" ("Evangelium Vitae," No. 101).

The most vulnerable, the unborn, remain at risk. The "Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights" fails on the same point. Although there is much to be said for it in terms of its vigilance for social responsibility (Article 14 "et passim") and the sharing of all biomedical findings and advances by the entire human family (Article 15), the glaring omission of the primary and fundamental right to life for all human beings, born and unborn, cannot be ignored.

These documents are certainly a step forward in protecting the world's population from manipulation, but there is much more to be done. The International Bioethics Committee continues to meet as do the various national agencies such as the President's Council on Bioethics in the United States of America.

Yet, unless these committees and councils begin to apply human reason soundly in accord with the natural moral law, an anemic understanding of the human being -- made in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus the Lord -- will continue to prevail to the detriment of the human being and his dignity until the Lord comes again.


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Bioethics, Life, Hull

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