John Paul II on the right to medical practice according to consciencePOPE JOHN PAUL II
I warmly welcome your visit on the occasion of the International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at which you are reflecting upon your future in the light of the fundamental right to medical training and practice according to conscience.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
- I warmly welcome your visit
on the occasion of the International Congress of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
at which you are reflecting upon your future in the light of the fundamental right
to medical training and practice according to conscience. Through you, I greet
all those health workers who, as servants and guardians of life, bear unceasing
witness throughout the world to the presence of Christ's Church in this vital
field, especially when human life is threatened by the burgeoning culture of death.
In particular, I thank professor Gian Luigi Gigli for his kind words on your behalf,
and I greet Professor Robert Walley, co-organizer of your Meeting.
Christian obstetricians, gynaecologists and obstetric nurses are always called
to be servants and guardians of life, for "the Gospel of life is at the heart
of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be
preached with dauntless fidelity as 'good news' to the people of every age and
culture" (Evangelium Vitae, 1). But your profession has become still more
important and your responsibility still greater "in today's cultural and social
context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their
inherent ethical dimension, [and] health-care professionals can be strongly tempted
at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death" (ibid., 89).
Until quite recently, medical ethics in general and Catholic morality
were rarely in disagreement. Without problems of conscience, Catholic doctors
could generally offer patients all that medical science afforded. But this has
now changed profoundly. The availability of contraceptive and abortive drugs,
new threats to life in the laws of some countries, some of the uses of prenatal
diagnosis, the spread of in vitro fertilization techniques, the consequent production
of embryos to deal with sterility, but also their destination to scientific research,
the use of embryonic stem cells for the development of tissue for transplants
to cure degenerative diseases, and projects of full or partial cloning, already
done with animals: all of these have changed the situation radically.
Moreover, conception, pregnancy and childbirth are no longer understood as ways
of cooperating with the Creator in the marvelous task of giving life to a new
human being. Instead they are often perceived as a burden and even as an ailment
to be cured, rather than being seen as a gift from God.
Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists and nurses are caught up in these tensions
and changes. They are exposed to a social ideology which asks them to be agents
of a concept of "reproductive health" based on new reproductive technologies.
Yet despite the pressure upon their conscience, many still recognize their responsibility
as medical specialists to care for the tiniest and weakest of human beings, and
to defend those who have no economic or social power, or public voice of their
The conflict between social pressure and the demands of right conscience
can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning the medical profession or of compromising
one's convictions. Faced with that tension, we must remember that there is a middle
path which opens up before Catholic health workers who are faithful to their conscience.
It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be respected by all,
- In striving to serve life, we must
work to ensure that the right to professional training and practice that is respectful
of conscience in law and in practice is guaranteed. It is clear, as I noted in
my Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, that "Christians, like all people of good
will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally
in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's
law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally
in evil" (No. 74). Wherever the right to train for and practice medicine with
respect for one's moral convictions is violated, Catholics must earnestly work
In particular, Catholic universities and hospitals are
called to follow the directives of the Church's Magisterium in every aspect of
obstetric and gynecological practice, including research involving embryos. They
should also offer a qualified and internationally recognized teaching network,
in order to help doctors who are subject to discrimination or unacceptable pressure
on their moral convictions to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
- It is my fervent hope that at the beginning of this new millennium,
all Catholic medical and health care personnel, whether in research or practice,
will commit themselves whole-heartedly to the service of human life. I trust that
the local Churches will give due attention to the medical profession, promoting
the ideal of unambiguous service to the great miracle of life, supporting obstetricians,
gynecologists and health workers who respect the right to life by helping to bring
them together for mutual support and the exchange of ideas and experiences.
Entrusting you and your mission as guardians and servants of life to the
protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing
to you and to all who work with you in bearing witness to the Gospel of life.
Paul II "Address of John Paul II on the Occasion of the International Congress
of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynecologists." June 18, 2001.