VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org): As scientists are abuzz about the discovery of how to fashion a new type of life from existing life, the Vatican is awaiting more information before offering ethical guidance.
A group of 24 scientists led by Craig Venter, one of the fathers of the human genome project, published a discovery in Science magazine recently, explaining how they started with a living cell and added a synthetic chromosome, which totally transforms that living cell to the new synthetic cell.
Vatican press office director Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi responded to the news with a call to “wait, to get to know more about this case”.
Pontifical Academy for Life president Archbishop Rino Fisichella and his predecessor Monsignor Elio Sgreccia made statements echoing the position of Fr Lombardi.
Italian bishops’ conference president Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco highlighted another element of the discovery.
“It is one more sign of man’s great intelligence,” he said.
The cardinal clarified, however, that scientific achievements were valid if they followed the requirements of ethics, “which holds at heart the authentic dignity of every person”.
The Saturday Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano published an article by Dr Carlo Bellieni, who is director of the Department of Neonatal Intensive Therapy of the University Polyclinic of Siena, Italy, and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in which he called for “uniting courage with caution”.
Dr Bellieni lauded Mr Venter’s discovery as a landmark for bio-genetics; however, he clarified, “life has not been created; one of the motors has been substituted”.
Citing geneticist David Baltimore, of the California Institute of Technology, he explained that life has been copied, more than created.
“Beyond the announcements and newspaper headlines an interesting result has been achieved, which could have applications and which must have rules, just like everything that touches the heart of life,” Dr Bellieni said.
“Genetic engineering can do good: suffice it to think of the possibility of curing chromosomal illnesses.
“Interventions on the genome can – it is hoped – cure, but they affect an extremely fragile terrain, in which the environment and manipulation play a role that must not be underestimated.”
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