Father Felix Wilfred
says the Vatican has released Dignitas Personae (dignity of the person) at the appropriate moment, when biomedical research is at its height and humanity is at a crucial phase.
Such an intervention was necessary for defending human dignity and life, he
told UCA News
on Jan. 3.
Father Wilfred is president of Concilium (council), a leading theological journal appearing in seven European languages.
formerly served as secretary of the Theological Advisory Committee of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences
, predecessor of the Office of Theological Concerns.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released Dignitas Personae on Dec. 12.
Father Wilfred, who until recently was president of the arts faculty at a government-run university, organized a national conference on bioethics recently in Chennai, 2,095 kilometers south of New Delhi, where he is based.
The Vatican stand is along expected lines, but the new document's tone is more open and inviting, which is good, he
also lauded the document for defending the dignity of the human person and for pointing out that benefits of biomedical research should reach the poor and the sick, not merely the rich.
Dignitas Personae also rightly warns against the genetic selection of offspring for creating higher quality human beings and playing God, Father Wilfred
observed, noting that this too would be something only the rich could afford.
According to the theologian, the Vatican instruction guards against irresponsibility in biomedical research and serves as a caveat in an increasingly consumerist society.
It would have been enhanced, however, had it addressed the social and political aspects of biomedical research instead of focusing just on ethical and anthropological aspects, Father Wilfred
There is a need to address social and political aspects of biomedical research, he
explained, because conflict and competition exist among countries that try to dominate such research.
The priest also pointed out that the Vatican instruction is mostly a list of prohibitions and could put off some people by not providing viable alternative solutions in a detailed manner.
The document refers to the alternative of adoption in passing, but does not emphasize it or deal adequately with surrogacy, in Father Wilfred's
also found it to be totally silent on the matter of HIV-infected people in relation to questions of biomedical research and reproductive technologies.
On the other hand, the theologian welcomed the Vatican's openness to new methods such as altered nuclear transfers and collection of stem cells from umbilical cords.
maintained the Vatican has enormous influence in political and scientific circles, and said he
expects the document will serve as a moral point of reference for policy makers, medical practitioners and researchers.
The Indian theologian also expressed hope the Vatican would join the global debate on bioethical issues and reflect it in future documents.
Biomedical research constantly redefines human beings and could benefit Christian anthropology, he