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Culture and reason in defence of people

· After the meeting in Rome of the European Bioethics Committees ·

The autonomy of every institution and the freedom to discuss and think are seen by the European ethical committees as fundamental conditions for bringing to conclusion the work of reflection on an in-depth examination of bioethical topics. This is the most obvious trait of the European organizations that met in Rome on 23 November, at a congress organized by the Italian National Bioethical Committee.

Even in their diversity – clearly connected with the history of the different countries, as also is the fact that in 1983 France was the first to set up its national ethical committee, whereas in Great Britain several bodies still today are dependent on private foundations – the German, French and British representatives have shown very similar types of organization and also parallel work methodologies that provide for the creation of study groups on individual themes and plenary assemblies for the drafting of the final texts, as well as freedom in the choice of the topics to be treated. These topics may sometimes be suggested by questions proposed by Governments or, as in the French case, by citizens, but are always relevant to the important topic inherent in the application of new technologies and new rights, namely, the image of the human being, the concept of the human, which our civilization, confronting incredible scientific progress, wishes to defend or to accept.

Every committee considers itself duty bound to involve civil society, publishing the results of its work but also – and this is the case of Germany – involving the public, which can be as many as four hundred people, in sessions on particularly burning topics, such as brain death or the prohibition of incest. The relationship with citizens is central, because it is for them that the committees have the task of examining in depth themes that look simple, making their complexity understood and anticipating queries as yet still underdeveloped but that might be important in the future.

Rather than expressing opinions and giving advice, therefore, the committees intend to be think tanks that hear all the voices, to become the conscience of collectivity in the face of the epochal changes of the human.

These institutions are always constituted by interdisciplinary groups, by people whose religious and philosophical affiliation differs, who work out a new culture outside traditional institutions, such as universities. And the European Union and UNESCO are also provided with bioethical committees, bodies with mainly didactic ends that are not only concerned with the bioethics of the rich, of the latest technological break-throughs, but also the bioethics of the poor,, such as, for example, the relationship with traditional medicine and the organs trade for transplants from living donors.

In Rome there was a very interesting exchange which made people realize that technological modernity is confronted in the European countries through a continuous and well-organized cultural venture that can involve the greatest possible public opinion. Bioethics committees are today largely deemed by public opinion an indisputable moral reference point, that plays a role of primary importance in what the representatives of these bodies themselves have described as the issue of the being human.

What is the Church doing in the face of all this cultural and pedagogical work, most of which ignores her teaching even if one or two Catholics belong to these committees? What is she doing in order not to be excluded, to make her own reflections and thoughts known? The non-negotiable principles must, for every individual case, be precisely identified, explained and upheld. In other words they must be defended with the weapons of culture and reason.

To succeed in being present and authoritative in this context, it would be useful for the Church herself to encourage places for the deepening of interdisciplinary knowledge, with the help of lay Catholics in particular, to discuss, examine and anticipate problems, and especially to communicate the results to those outside. In brief, it would be useful to create a bioethical reference point that would keep abreast of the problems that arise, but would also be able to intuit the questions that will be asked and clarify the application of Catholic morals in every individual case. What is at stake, in fact, is of the utmost importance. Just as the representatives of the committees said at the Congress in Rome, it is a question here of the human being, of the human being's identity and protection. It is worth playing the game properly and taking part in the debate.

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