BY VIVIANE HEWITT IN ROME AND MURRAY WHITE
THE POPE WILL condemn embryo research and most forms of in vitro fertilisation in an encyclical to be published next week.
The 177-page encyclical Evangelium Vitae, or the "Gospel of Life", gives the Catholic Church's strongest statement yet on life issues: in vitro fertilisation, euthanasia and abortion are all covered in the papal document.
The encyclical does not use the word "infallible" in any of its pages, and Vatican sources told the Catholic Herald this is due to an 1 1 th hour intervention by the otherwise conservative Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The Cardinal had also eliminated the "infallible" claim from a 1994 Apostolic Letter banning women priests.
In 1991, at a Curia summit wIliEh consulted him on a potential new Papal pronouncement on the defence of life, the Cardinal suggested that there were prospects of "a solemn affirmation of the principle that direct killing of an innocent human being is always a matter of grave sin." The encyclical will test the consciences of thousands of childless Catholic couples who want families. It maintains that embryology, including most IVF treatment for infertile women, is a contravention of the doctrine that all life is sacred. The encyclical, to be published next week, condemns those couples who successfully have children through IVF and then donate the surplus embryos to research.
It is thought that thousands of embryos are currently frozen in banks at Britain's 68 in vitro fertilisation clinics. The Government is under pressure to change the law
which at present requires the embryo's disposal after five years. In a typical IVF treatment, more embryos are created than are transferred to the womb. In the encyclical the Pope stresses that human life is ended with each discarded embryo.
Dr Luke Gormally of the Linacre Centre for Rio-ethics told the Catholic Herald that he would be "surprised if the encyclical calls for anything beyond the GIFT technique, in which the eggs are mixed with the sperm and transferred immediately to the womb, so that no embryo is grown outside the body." Evangelium Vitae is understood to condemn embryo research and genetic manipulation which lead to the death of a foetus, but accepts life-enhancing operations on a foetus within the womb, so long as the baby's life is not directly threatened. Philip Daniel, Chairman of the Issues Committee of the Catholic Union, said that "embryo research has proved a very divisive issue for those of us who try to fully assemble all people of strong religious faith to promote valueissues in Parliament. "
On euthanasia, Dr Luke Gormally said, "we are dealing not just with technological changes and their influences but also economic changes. The shift in the age of our population with many more elderly has been part of the drive towards euthanasia, which too many see as an answer to an economic problern. It is important," stressed Dr Gormally, "that the Church is capable of meeting this challenge and continues to promote respect for the elderly."
In his latest encyclical, John Paul II re-iterates Catholic doctrine that abortion is under no circumstances permissible. Capital punishment is acceptable under very exceptional circumstances.