Christian Conscience in
Support of the Right to Life
FINAL DECLARATION BY THE 13th
PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE
1. On 23-24 February, the
Pontifical Academy for Life organized an International Congress at the Vatican
on the occasion of its 13th General Assembly. The topic of the Congress was:
"Christian conscience in support of the right to life". Present were the Members
of the Pontifical Academy for Life and other well-known experts from various
countries, in addition to approximately 420 persons from around the world.
At the end of the meeting, on the
basis of what emerged from the reports presented and from the lively and
constructive discussion, the Pontifical Academy for Life offers the following
considerations to the ecclesial community, the civil community and every person
of good will for reflection.
2. "Deep within his conscience
man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.
Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil,
tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For man has in his
heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it
he will be judged" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 16).
Thus, acting in faithful
obedience to the judgments of his own moral conscience, which honestly seeks
good and is constantly nourished by known truth, every person expresses and
realizes his human dignity deep within himself, edifying himself and the whole
community through his own conscious and free choices.
3. So that man may always be
guided in his actions by the judgment of his moral conscience to do good in
truth, he must take every possible care of his continuing formation, nourishing
it with values consonant with the dignity of the human person, with justice and
with the common good, as the Holy Father recalled in his Address to the
Pontifical Academy for Life:
"The formation of a true
conscience, because it is founded on the truth, and upright, because it is
determined to follow its dictates without contradictions, without betrayal and
without compromises, is a difficult and delicate undertaking today, but
indispensable" (Address to Participants in the 13th General Assembly of the
Pontifical Academy of Life, 24 February 2007; L'Osservatore Romano English
edition [ORE], 7 March, p. 3).
The Christian's conscience, in
particular, is fully enlightened in his search for good by a constant encounter
with the Word of God, understood and lived in the Christian community according
to the teachings of the Magisterium.
4. This need for continuing
formation and a deepening of the conscience is very obvious today in the face of
the many cultural and social problems which are surfacing and affect the right
to life in the context of the family, in the assumption of the duties proper to
married couples and to parents, in the health-care profession and in political
It is the ever more necessary and
pressing task of the Christian conscience, taking on authentic human values and
starting with the fundamental value of respect for life in its physical
existence and dignity, to view such problems in the light of reason illumined by
faith in forming opinions on the moral value of one's own acts.
5. Furthermore, we cannot
overlook the many difficulties that the Christian conscience of believers meets
today in forming an opinion and in reasoning. These difficulties are due to the
cultural context in which they live and in which they are experiencing the
crisis of "authority", loss of faith and all too often a tendency to seek refuge
in forms of extreme rationalism.
In addition to the cultural
context, another area that tests the Christian conscience is constituted by the
juridical norms in force, both those that are codified and those defined by
tribunals and the sentences passed by tribunals, which increasingly and under
strong pressure from united and influential groups have opened and are opening
the ruinous breach of decriminalization: exceptions to the individual's right to
life are foreseen, various attacks on human life are being every more widely
legalized, and indeed end by denying that life is the basis of every other right
of the individual and that the respect due to the dignity of every human being
is the basis of freedom and responsibility.
In this regard, Benedict XVI has
recalled that "the Christian is continually called to be ever alert in order to
face the multiple attacks to which the right to life is exposed" (ibid. p. 3).
6. The specific requirements of
the Christian conscience encounter their acid test in their application to the
health-care professions; here, Christians face both their duty to protect human
life and the risk of finding themselves in situations where in carrying out
their professional duties they are cooperating with evil.
In such situations, the dutiful
exercise of a "courageous conscientious objection" acquires importance on the
part of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrative personnel, judges and
parliamentarians, and other professional figures directly involved in the
protection of individual human life, wherever the legislative norms provide for
actions that threaten it.
However, at the same time it
should also be stressed that recourse to conscientious objection occurs today in
a cultural context of ideological tolerance, which paradoxically sometimes tends
not to encourage the acceptance of the exercise of this right since it is a
"destabilizing" element of the quietism of the conscience.
We wish to highlight that the
exercise of the right to conscientious objection is particularly difficult for
the health-care professions, since this right is normally recognized as the
right of an individual and not of hospital structures or associations.
In the field of medical practice,
the case of "emergency contraception" (generally using chemical expedients) may
be mentioned. It is necessary first of all to recall the moral responsibility of
those who make their use possible at various levels, and the need for recourse
to conscientious objection since the effects of this form of contraception are
abortive (preventing implantation or gestation). The moral duty to provide the
public with complete information on the various mechanisms of action and the
effects of these expedients should also be reasserted.
This of course goes hand in hand
with the duty to oppose any medical intervention or research that is destined to
destroy human life.
7. The mobilization of all who
have at heart the protection of human life seems increasingly appropriate and
must be extended to politics. Respect for the principle of equality that demands
the rights of all to be honoured and protected, especially in the case of the
frailest and most defenceless beings, is an indispensable requirement of
We present anew and with
conviction the specific teaching concerning conscientious objection that is
presented in the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (cf. nn. 72, 73, 74), particularly
in the perspective of the adherence of Christians to programmes proposed by
We are also hoping for
legislation that will complete Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, proclaimed in 1948 by the United Nations to guarantee the right to
conscientious objection and to defend this right against all forms of
discrimination in the areas of work, education and the attribution of benefits
8. To conclude, we present anew
the desire expressed by the Holy Father as a message of hope and of commitment
in order to contribute to building a human society in proportion to man:
"Therefore, I ask the Lord to send among you, dear brothers and sisters, and
among those dedicated to science, medicine, law and politics, witnesses endowed
with true and upright consciences in order to defend and promote the "splendour
of the truth' and to sustain the gift and mystery of life.
"I trust in your help, dearest
professionals, philosophers, theologians, scientists and doctors. In a society
at times chaotic and violent, with your cultural qualifications, by teaching and
by example, you can contribute to awakening in many hearts the eloquent and
clear voice of conscience" (Address, ORE, op. cit., p. 4).
More Church Teaching