Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to all forms of artificial procreation – a couple conceiving a child through assisted means – at a conference on infertility over the weekend, calling such means of procreation "gravely immoral."
Leading experts from the world of medicine, scientific research, theology and philosophy gathered at the Vatican for a Pontifical Academy for Life conference to discuss the problem of infertility and suggest possible treatments and coping methods for Christian couples who want to have children but one or both of the partners are infertile.
"The Church pays great attention to the suffering of couples with infertility, she cares for them and, precisely because of this, encourages medical research," the pope said on Saturday to members in attendance, Vatican News reported.
"The human and Christian dignity of procreation, consists not in a 'product,' but in its connection with the conjugal act, an expression of love of the spouses, their union which is not only biological but also spiritual," the Benedict added.
At the conference, the Catholic leader pledged the Vatican's support for scientists looking to cure or provide better treatments to couples and help them with their reproductive problems, but also insisted that research "must also be respectful of the integral humanity of those involved."
"In fact, the union of man and woman in that community of love and life that is marriage, is the only 'place' worthy for the call into existence of a new human being, which is always a gift," the pope added, noting that artificial insemination or using a surrogate mother does not comply with Catholic doctrine.
The official Roman Catholic position on artificial procreation, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, states:
"Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' right to become a father and a mother only through each other."
Pope Benedict explained that couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility still have to fulfill their full vocation to marriage.
"The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that no organic condition can prevent. There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ," he insisted. Benedict also sent out a warning to many of the scientists at the Pontifical Academy for Life assembly:
"People trust in you, who serve life, they trust in your commitment to support those who need comfort and hope. Never succumb to the temptation to treat what's best for people by reducing it to a mere technical problem! The indifference of conscience to what is true and good, represents a dangerous threat to genuine scientific progress."
The Catholic Church has been heavily involved in evaluating the morality behind scientific research in recent times, particularly when it comes to the creation or destruction of human life. Back in Nov. 2011, it sponsored a three-day conference that analyzed the scientific and ethical implications of using adult stem cells to cure diseases.
"Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture" was hosted by the Pontifical Council and U.S. biotech company, NeoStem Inc.
The conference brought together theologians, physicians and philosophers, along with people who have been treated with stem cells. The Vatican expressed that its mission was to find companies willing to focus on methods of stem cell extraction that would not destroy human embryos, such as embryonic stem cell research, which it is still firmly opposed to.