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European bishops concerned about draft bill on medical use of ‘human substances’

European Parliament. / Credit: Unsplash | Guillaume Périgois

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 13, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Commission of the Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Commissariat of the German Bishops-Catholic Office in Berlin on Sept. 12 published a joint statement expressing their “deep concern” about a new draft bill that changes the position of the European Council and Parliament on the substances of human origin (SoHO) regulation.

The bishops said that the bill, with the transactional amendments to the regulation, “will unequivocally set the course of the future discussion regarding prenatal human life in European transplantation and pharmaceutical law” and noted that “it will influence the ongoing discussion on strengthening the EU Health Union and will raise numerous ethical and constitutional conflict issues in the EU member states.”

The bishops stated that “as the Catholic Church we are convinced, with many others and for many reasons, that human life from the beginning, including unborn life, possesses its own dignity, right, and independent right of protection” and therefore it is their intention to draw attention to the consequences of the new SoHO regulation.

Specifically, the document emphasizes the danger of expanding the definition of the term “human substance,” since it could include human embryos and fetuses. 

Father Manuel Barrios Prieto, secretary general of the COMECE, explained the significance of this: “The danger lies in the possibility that such a definition may degrade the dignity and value of human life, creating an unacceptable equivalence between embryos and fetuses and simple skin cells or blood plasma.”

The statement also notes that Article 58 of the new regulation “would permit and mandate preliminary genetic testing on embryos and fetuses, potentially paving the way for life selection.”

Human life not just a ‘substance of human origin’

The objective of the regulation is “to realize the full potential of novel forms of processing and use of blood, tissues, and cells for patients” and to ensure “patient care.”

Thus the new term “substance of human origin” (SoHO) is introduced, which for the European prelates is defined “too broadly” and could have serious moral and ethical consequences.

“The definition of ‘SoHO’ according to Article 3 No. 5 of the draft regulation not only refers to non-fertilized germ cells (sperm, oocytes, and degenerated oocytes) in the field of reproductive medicine but also covers embryos and fetuses,” the joint declaration states.

The bishops pointed out that “this is relevant, for example, to the removal and use of deceased or killed embryos and fetuses as well as the alternative use of in-vitro-produced supernumerary embryos that are deliberately not implanted in the woman’s uterus.”

“In all these cases,” the bishops noted, “the SoHO regulation degrades unborn human life to a mere ‘substance of human origin’ or — depending on its origin — to a ‘SoHO preparation’ equating it [in the regulation] on the same level as skin cells or blood plasma without any sort of differentiation. Human subjects are thus subdued to be mere objects in disregard of their inherent dignity.”

Addressing the issue in 2008, the Congregation [now Dicastery] for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Holy See, in its instruction Dignitas Personae, stated that “the dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses a great ‘yes’ to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever-greater importance in today’s world.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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