Au cœur du débat bioéthique. Dignité et vulnérabilité.

Various Catholic Bishop's Conferences published documents on foundational bioethics principles and dilemmas. Here is the recent one by the working group of the Bishops' Conference of France on Bioethics called: Au cœur du débat bioéthique. Dignité et vulnérabilité (In the heart of the public debate. Dignity and vulnerability).
In this document, Mgr d’Ornellas wants to carry on from the notion of vulnerability the dialogue with the Information Report of the parliamentary mission on bioethics written by Jean Léonetti. When "those for whom the autonomy, dignity and integrity principles are to be threatened" are vulnerable, the bishops remind that vulnerability is "a criterion of priority ethical judgement ". It is with regard of this criterion that they assess two worrying questions of the parliamentary Report: the research on human embryo and the welcome of disabled people.

Research on the embryo

Because he is defenceless and voiceless, the unborn child is the vulnerable being by excellence, notes the Report which sees in the vulnerability of the embryo the "preliminary to a potential reification of the human being". Yet, despite this established fact and the proposal 4 which suggests to "take into account the interest of the unborn child", in other respects the Report weakens the yet precarious status of the embryo.

By recommending a symbolic prohibition regime for research on human embryo, any derogation is only admissible "to the extent that superior interests can oppose this principle, in this case the interest that presents these researches for public health", the parliamentary Report estimates that there may have interests superior to the respect due to life of human being. In the reality, the covetousness of scientists and the economic pressures are too often the cause of the "sacrifice" of the embryo. To the ontological vulnerability of the embryo, is added the vulnerability caused by the inability of the Report to clearly define the status of the embryo which, shunted between thing and person, is reduced to the state of "potential being" or to "potential person" whose rights remain relative. The notion of "parental project", also gives to the embryo "an eminent form of vulnerability".

For the working group of the Bishops’ Conference of France, it seems that in this parliamentary Report, "the ‘comprehensible’ call of scientists softened the call of the most vulnerable ones among the already ‘highly vulnerable' human embryos. Thus it reminds that "the legislator has the heavy mission not to give way to alarms of competitors or economic results and to start the thought so that the scientific research is led according to the highest ethical responsibility, the one of the respect of the ‘inviolable’ and ‘unfading’ human dignity under any circumstances".

Welcoming disabled people

Mgr d’Ornellas notes that the society makes significant investments for integrating disabled persons, while it maintains the myth of "the zero-defect quality child". The Prenatal Diagnosis Techniques (PDT), which "are morally licit when they do not have disproportioned risks for the child and the mother, and which are directed to make an early therapy possible or even to favour a serene and conscious acceptation of the unborn child", became despite them "a screening tool so that the unimaginable situation does not occur. From now on, it is not undoubtedly exaggerated to talk about eugenic mentality of the society which fears to be faced with the difference of the disability". The bishops indicate that announcing the disability to parents must be enlightened with prudent and fair information. "The information and the accompaniment cannot simply placed the woman (and its spouse) in the neutrality, because to keep or not the child is not two symmetric decisions." "The development of all the information supposes that the immense dignity of the disabled child is given, his capacity to arouse a deep love", his own happiness way. The bishops call all the more the attention of the legislator on this point, than the CCNE in its opinion 107, noted: "the simple fact to envisage the eventuality of a pregnancy termination can produce an incentive effect to the extent that, tacitly, the physician judges the situation as worrying. The information generates anxiety all the more lively as it is sometimes expressed in statistics". The bishops remind that "the experience shows that the IMG is always a ‘trauma’" and that "more deeply, the voluntary and deliberated termination of pregnancy hurts the mother deep down in her heart and often generates culpability – not always said – which remains a weight. On an anthropologic point of view, freedom cannot be dissociated from the truth which, alone, allows an authentic accompaniment. For love and reason, this one becomes a real compassion." Moreover they refuse the proposal 26 of the Report which recommends the systematic extension of the PID to Down syndrome screening. Such a decision would generate "a real legalized eugenics" and would mean "that a Down Syndrome child conceived in vitro and submitted to PID is presumed dead". On the other hand, they call to follow the proposal 25 which suggests "reinforcing the researches on particularly serious diseases detected on the embryo or the foetus and carrying on the actions aiming at improving the treatment of disabled people".

***See also: http://www.eglise.catholique.fr/eglise-et-societe/bioethique/recherches-sur-l-embryon/recherches-sur-lembryon.html

* Embryon, que nous dis-tu de toi ?, billet d'Henri Bléhaut directeur de la recherche de la Fondation Jérôme Lejeune le 16 avril 2009

* Recherche sur les cellules souches embryonnaires : que penser de la décision des Etats-Unis? , billet de Mgr Gérard Defois évêque émérite de Lille, et membre du groupe de travail des évêques sur la bioéthique le 19 mars 2009

* Statut de l'embryon : éclairages, billet d'Astrid Tiercellin, juriste, le 19 février 2009

* Recherche sur l'embryon, Synthèse extraite du livre "Bioéthique, propos pour un dialogue", de Mgr Pierre d'Ornellas et les évêques du groupe de travail sur la bioéthique, DDB, février 2009.

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