Technology & Science

Vatican conference to study embryo origin, development

The Vatican is organizing a conference on the origin and development of the human embryo, saying bioethical debates regarding stem cells, cloning and assisted fertility often overlook what it considers the crucial origin of organisms.

The Vatican is organizing a conference on the origin and development of the human embryo, saying current bioethical debates regarding stem cells, cloning and assisted fertility often overlook what it considers the crucial origin of organisms.

Church teaching holds that human life begins at conception. The Vatican has been on an increasingly vocal campaign in recent years against abortion and technologies such as embryonic stem-cell research that destroy embryos.

The conference, which runs Nov. 15-17, is part of a Vatican teaching and research program involving six pontifical universities. The program was created in 2003 to further explore the relationship between science and faith.

"The study of human life from the point of view of its individual origin acquires a particular interest in today's world," said Rev. Rafael Pascual, dean of the philosophy department at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university, which is hosting the conference.

He cited issues such as assisted fertility, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryonic stem cell research.

The Vatican program, Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest, was created to help what officials say was a mutual prejudice between religion and science that has bedevilled the Catholic Church since the time of Galileo.

The project, which is under the auspices of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, was inspired by Pope John Paul II's 1992 declaration that the church's 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension."

Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicholas Copernicus's discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the centre of the universe.

The head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi, was asked if in the scope of its research, the Vatican would entertain scientific views that differed from its own regarding the origin of life.

He said that in research, there must always be respect paid between two sides, but at the same time each side must hold fast to its beliefs without compromise.