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Statement on Dignitas Personae by Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice

December 12, 2008

“The Vatican’s new document on bioethics, Dignitas Personae, shows that the Catholic hierarchy is once again on the wrong side of science and the needs of contemporary society. There is little new in the statement, but it remains difficult to reconcile the Vatican’s self-avowed prolife approach with the rejection of in-vitro fertilization and embryo freezing, not to mention the condemnation of the potential of stem-cell research. As our scientists use ground-breaking technology to find treatments to diseases that have endured for centuries, they need our support, not condemnation.

“Catholics are as likely to suffer from fertility problems as is the rest of the population. Catholics also understand the potential of embryonic stem-cell research, and support it in large numbers. A poll we carried out during the summer found that almost seven in ten Catholics in the US favor stem-cell research with early human embryos (69 percent). A similar number support decoupling science from religion, rejecting the Catholic hierarchy’s attempts to influence scientific endeavor. An even larger proportion (73 percent) say they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. This may be an issue during the coming administration if Congress is asked to vote on whether to extend federal funding for such vital research.

“The Catholic hierarchy has had a long and public battle with science and scientists over the centuries. What’s perhaps less well known is the fact that despite these battles, various elements of the Catholic church have a long and well respected reputation for supporting scientific endeavor. We need that aspect of the church to step forward now, and show the world that Catholicism and scientific progress can work in harmony to help develop the cures we need to cure disease and infertility.

“A famous Catholic scientist, John Rock, had some sage words for the Catholic bishops. Rock, who was the co-inventor of the contraceptive pill, received a letter from an angry conservative. “You should be afraid to meet your Maker,” she wrote soon after the pill was approved. “My dear madam,” Rock replied, “in my faith, we are taught that the Lord is with us always. When my time comes, there will be no need for introductions.” Rock was also a pioneer in in-vitro fertilization and the freezing of sperm cells, and was the first to extract an intact fertilized egg. Here clearly was a man who did much to promote life and the dignity of the individual. Now that is something that all good Catholics can support.”