Pope Francis praised scientists searching for treatments for genetic diseases but cautioned against the use of human embryos in their research. The pontiff spoke during a Vatican-organized conference that highlighted global awareness of Huntington's disease, a degenerative and incurable brain disorder.
Pope Francis encouraged geneticists to pursue scientific advancement only through means that do not contribute to the "throwaway culture" which treats human beings as objects for use. He was referring to ongoing research on human gene editing to purportedly treat diseases.
U.K. scientists were granted a license last year to manipulate the genome of embryos as part of a research on miscarriage, Daily Mail reported. The work is controversial because the embryos experimented will be destroyed after two weeks and implanting them into a womb is illegal.
"Some branches of research use human embryos, inevitably causing their destruction," Pope Francis said Thursday. "But we know that no ends, even noble in themselves – such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society – can justify the destruction of human embryos," he added.
Another potentially dangerous outcome of modifying the genes of unborn children is the creation of "designer babies" or humans with enhanced capabilities. John DiCamillo, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, spoke about the possibility last month after the National Academy of Sciences released its guidelines on editing the human genome.
Gene altering therapies, he said, raises a question of how much modification and enhancement is permissible. "There's any number of things that we could do to change the qualities of human beings themselves and make them, in a sense, super-humans," DiCamillo went on to say. "This is something that would also be an ethical problem on the horizon," he added.
On the other hand, Pope Francis praised the increasing collaboration between science and religion to address climate change. He called on the two communities to work together in finding creative solutions to other urgent problems like water shortages, food security and renewable forms of energy.