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Vatican bioethics text says humans not mere cells

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Friday said life was sacred at every stage of its existence and condemned artificial fertilisation, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and drugs which block pregnancy from taking hold.

Heavy clouds hover over St. Peter's Square at the Vatican December 5, 2008. REUTERS/Max Rossi

A long-awaited document on bioethics by the Vatican’s doctrinal body also said the so-called “morning after pill” and the drug RU-486, which blocks the action of hormones needed to keep a fertilised egg implanted in the uterus, fall “within the sin of abortion” and are gravely immoral.

“Dignitas Personae” (dignity of a person), an Instruction of Certain Bioethical Questions,” is an attempt to bring the Church up to date with recent advances in science and medicine.

It said human life deserved respect “from the very first stages of its existence (and) can never be reduced merely to a group of cells.”

“The human embryo has, therefore, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person,” the document by the Congregations of the Doctrine of the Faith said.

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It said most forms of artificial fertilisation “are to be excluded” because “they substitute for the conjugal act ... which alone is truly worthy of responsible procreation.”

It condemned in-vitro fertilisation, saying the techniques “proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded.”

The highly technical document said only adult stem cell research was moral because embryonic stem cell research involved the destruction of embryos.

In the document, the Vatican also defended its right to intervene on such matters.

“There are those who say that the moral teaching of the Church contains too many prohibitions. In reality, however, her teaching is based on the recognition and promotion of all the gifts which the Creator has bestowed on man: such as life, knowledge, freedom and love,” it said.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan