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Wed Aug 20 22:29:31 SAST 2014

Catholic experts slam Nobel prize decision

Sapa-AFP | 05 October, 2010 14:020 Comments

Catholic experts condemned a decision to award the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine to Robert Edwards for his pioneering research into IVF, highlighting a sensitive grey area between religion and science.

"The decision to give the prize to Edwards was a populist one" that did not take into account the ethical dimension, Lucio Romano, head of the Science and Life Association, a Rome-based Catholic organisation, told AFP.

The Vatican press office meanwhile released a statement by theInternational Federation of Catholic Medic Association (FIAC) which described their "disappointment" after the announcement of the award on Monday.

The Vatican's top medical ethics official, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, already criticised the decision in comments on Monday that blamed Edwards for creating a market in embryos and failing to protect human life.

Despite the "happiness" IVF has brought "to many couples," the FIAC association said it deplored "the use of human beings as animals for experimentation and then destruction.

"It has created a culture where they are seen as useful means to an end, rather than the precious individual humans that they are," it added.

Avvenire, the newspaper of the influential Italian Bishops Conference, said in an editorial that the decision was a "lost opportunity."

The award "acknowledged the value of research into techniques that involve the death of human embryos" rather than less "front page" research into disorders such as Down's Syndrome, it said.

Edwards' research revolutionised parenthood and led to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood.

But the development of IVF techniques has raised many scientific questions and ethical dilemmas surrounding "test tube babies."

Critics say in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and related techniques are immoral because of the frozen human embryos destroyed.

The Vatican is firmly opposed to IVF but in 2008 it modified its stance on other medical procedures associated with infertility.

"Techniques which assist procreation are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial," said the document, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has stressed the importance of human dignity and said that "technologies that assist the couple's marital union in giving rise to a child respect this special dignity of the human person."

On Monday, a top Vatican official dismissed the Nobel award for Edwards as misguided.

"Without Edwards, there would not be a market on which millions of ovocytes are sold, and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world," Carrasco said.

"In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the Nobel Prize winner is responsible," he added.

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