Catholic Organization for Life and Family: Church and Scientific Communities Discuss Biotechnology

Thursday, March 08 2001

(CCCB – Ottawa) The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) recently held its third annual seminar on biotechnology in the offices of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), in Ottawa. Scientists, theologians, philosophers, lawyers, bishops and other interested Catholics participated in that meeting to examine current issues from a Catholic perspective.

These annual meetings help to create and maintain a network for ethicists and scientists working in this area as well as to foster better understanding of recent scientific developments in this fast-changing technological domain.

“The information exchanged helps us to refine our ethical reflection on the many issues and challenges that biotechnology raises,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, Archbishop of Halifax and member of COLF. “The expertise and knowledge shared by the resource persons at this meeting helps enormously when we have to speak out in public on these matters.”

The participants examined four areas at the seminar: the human genome project and its implications; designer babies/pre implantation diagnosis, allowing genetic analysis to be performed on early embryos prior to implantation and pregnancy; stem cell therapy to treat malfunctioning human cells; and gene therapy which aims to treat disease by introducing normal genes to replace defective genes. Each theme began with a scientific presentation followed by a moral and ethical reflection.

To present these topics, COLF invited the following experts: Dr. François Pothier, a professor from Laval University and a specialist in animal reproduction; Dr. Bernard Keating, a professor of ethics from the Faculty of theology and religious science at Laval University; Dr. Amalia Issa, an expert in neurological science and a fellow in medical ethics at Harvard University; Dr. Robert Allore, S.J., a molecular biologist and geneticist; Dr. Noël Simard, an ethics professor from the Faculty of theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa; Dr. Richard Haughian, theologian and president of the Catholic Health Association of Canada (CHAC); Mr. James Roche, responsible for policy analysis and government relations at the CHAC; Dr. Bridget Campion, assistant professor of moral theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto; Dr. Thérèse Leroux, a biochemist and professor at the Faculty of law, University of Montreal; and Dr. Suzanne Rozell Scorsone, anthropologist and member of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. The Seminar was facilitated by Fr. Ron Mercier, S.J., the Dean of Regis College, Toronto School of Theology.

The Seminar showed once again that discussion of concerns about biotechnology must not be left only to those scientists and others in the specialized communities who are developing these technologies, or only those who are financially backing this research such as multinational corporations that would reap large profits through their development.

“Other aspects of the debate must be given greater priority besides the purely economic goals,” said Richard Haughian, president of the Catholic Health Association of Canada. “It is also important that the public be well informed and that ways be found to involve the public in consultation and decision making related to biotechnology issues.”

Other concerns were also raised, including reducing the human being to simply a genetic code, and the use of human embryos for their “body parts.” As more discoveries are made, what genetic code or what human being will be considered normal? Should we feel guilty about not helping a suffering person when we know that technologies exist to help that person, controversial though they may be? Do we refuse to help someone knowing that he or she could later develop a disease such as cancer?

Archbishop Bertrand Blanchet of Rimouski, and chairperson of COLF, underlined the importance of these seminars for the participants. “These issues concern the entire Church, he said. It is such a joy to see the presence here of specialists not only in biology by also in ethics as well as men and women involved in the Church, both clergy and laity.”

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family was jointly founded by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus. Its mission is to promote respect for life, human dignity and the essential role of the family.

Some of the participants to the forum : Dr Richard Haughian, president of the CHAC and Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, s.j., Archbishop of Halifax. In the background: Ms. Marie Cameron of the CWL, Dr Suzanne Scorsone, anthropologist and Ms. Jennifer Leddy of COLF
F. Robert Allore, s.j., Most Rev. Bertrand Blanchet, Archbishop of Rimouski and President of COLF and Vivian Bosch of the CWL