On Thursday, Pope Francis told a special Vatican audience that there is no justification for the destruction or the use of embryos for scientific purposes. The pope said that embryos should not be used in research even if the research would be able to help people suffering from incurable diseases. Around 1,700 people from 16 countries gathered at the Vatican on Thursday for a special event for people affected by Huntington’s disease and their caretakers, according to Herald Malaysia. Huntington’s disease is an incurable, genetic brain disorder. Pope Francis’ audience included members of the medical and scientific communities. These doctors and scientists also listened as Pope Francis told them that he sees several ethical problems surrounding Huntington’s disease research.
“Some branches of research, in fact, utilize human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction. But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos,” Pope Francis said during a meeting at the Vatican.
Catholic News Agency reported that Pope Francis told the audience that embryonic stem cells are taken from embryos that were created through the process of in vitro fertilization and used in Huntington’s disease research. He said that embryos should not be used for research, even for the commendable cause of trying to help ease the suffering of these patients. He encouraged the scientists to conduct research only using methods that don’t contribute to a “throw-away culture” that he says often treats human beings as objects to be utilized.
Pope Francis made similar comments about the use of embryos in 2015. He said that there was a tendency within the scientific community “to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.” At that time, the pope said, “We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.” At that time, Pope Francis also said that when technology doesn’t follow ethical principles, “it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit.”
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”
Pope Francis said that when humans try to control all of nature, the bedrock of life starts to crumble, and what happens is that mankind actually provokes a “rebellion on the part of nature.”
Pope Francis didn’t turn a cold shoulder to those suffering in the audience though. He embraced each of the 150 people at the Vatican who were suffering from Huntington’s Disease. Pope Francis tried to remove some of the stigma surrounding the genetic disorder. The disease causes physical and psychiatric issues. Around the world, Huntington’s disease patients are often abandoned. In some parts of the world, they are considered possessed by the devil.
“May none of you ever feel you are alone,” Pope Francis told them. “May none of you feel you are a burden. May no one feel the need to run away.”
Pope Francis told them that they are precious in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
The Philadelphia Tribune reported that Huntington’s is 1,000 times more prevalent in South America than it is around the globe, and so many of the people that met with the pope were from South America. The gene was reportedly first identified in Venezuela over two decades ago. The stigma was so severe that carriers have reportedly intermarried for generations, causing a greater frequency of the disease.
The event was brought about after Elena Cattaneo, an Italian researcher, wrote to Pope Francis last summer and asked him to meet with someone with the disease. The Vatican told her that Pope Francis would meet with more than just one patient, because many suffer.
“His embrace immediately dissolved this cloak of obscurity, and this ignorance that this is a contagious disease,” Cattaneo said, according to the Philadelphia Tribune. “Those words changed their lives.”
Organizers of the event at the Vatican said that it was the very first time that a world leader recognized Huntington’s disease suffering. Reports indicate that the patients suffering from the incurable disease were grateful for the meeting with Pope Francis, despite the pope’s belief that researchers trying to end their suffering should never use embryos.
[Featured Image by Andrew Medichini/AP Images]