By John Jalsevac

February 24, 2009 ( – In an address last Saturday to participants in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Benedict XVI warned of the rise of a “new eugenics” that judges the worth of an individual based on his or her genetic makeup, as expressed in factors such as health and beauty.

Despite the fact that a condemnation of imposed eugenics was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “there are appearing in our days troubling manifestations of this hateful practice,” observed the pope to participants in the conference, entitled “New Frontiers of Genetics and the Danger of Eugenics.” “A new mentality is insinuating itself that tends to justify a different consideration of life and personal dignity based on individual desire and individual rights.”

“There is thus a tendency to privilege the capacities for work, efficiency, perfection and physical beauty to the detriment of other dimensions of existence that are not held to be valuable.”

Alex Schadenberg, the chairman of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, who was in attendance at the conference, told that the pope’s remarks were directed at the rising trend of “genetic screening, eugenic abortion – of all types, and eugenic attitudes towards people with disabilities that are leading to euthanasia and medical discrimination related to end-of-life care.”

Statistics show that in many Western nations up to 95% of unborn children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome are killed in their mother’s womb before birth. Recently it was announced that a screening technique is in development that may enable the diagnosis of autism in utero. Critics have said that such a test will inevitably lead to the eugenic abortion of children with autism.

The practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) has also opened the door to the “new eugenics.” IVF gives prospective parents the ability to choose to implant an embryo in the mother’s womb that has what the parents deem to be desirable characteristics.

The pope said that these practices are unacceptable, observing, “Equality and human dignity will only effectively be maintained when the human person is respected as a unique individual who is not judged by his/her utility, but rather for their innate nature as a human person.”

“Biological, psychological or cultural development or state of health can never become an element of discrimination. It is necessary, on the contrary, to consolidate a culture of hospitality and love that concretely testifies to solidarity with those who suffer, raising the barriers that society often erects, discriminating against those who are disabled and affected by pathologies, or worse – selecting and rejecting in the name of an abstract ideal of health and physical perfection.”

The pope condemned the new eugenics for reducing man to a mere body, while ignoring other important dimensions of the human person. “Man,” he said, “is greater than all of that which makes up his body; in fact, he carries with him the power of thought, which is always drawn to the truth about himself and the world.”

“Every human being, then, is much more than a singular combination of genetic information that is transmitted to him by his parents. The generation of man can never be reduced to the mere reproduction of a new individual of the human species, as is the case with all other animals. Every appearance of a person in the world is always a new creation. If we want to enter into the mystery of human life, then it is necessary that no science isolate itself, pretending to have the last word.”

The pope denounced every form of discrimination against individuals or groups based upon differences in genetic factors as “an act of violence against all of humanity.”

“What must be forcefully reemphasized is the equal dignity of every human being according to the fact itself of having life,” he said.

Complete text of the Holy Father’s address, in Italian