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Episcopal commission expresses ‘deep concern’ over draft European ethics law

A commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops has expressed “deep concern” about a proposed EU law on the use of embryos, cells and “substances of human origin”, warning it could facilitate genetic and gender interference in the 27 member states of the European Union.

“Unequivocally, this regulation will set the course for future discussions regarding prenatal human life…and will raise many conflicting ethical and constitutional questions,” the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Community, or COMECE, said in a joint statement with the Catholic office of the German Church in Berlin.

“(This) degrades unborn human life into mere ‘substance of human origin’, assimilating it to the same level as skin cells or blood plasma. … Human subjects are thus reduced to being mere objects in disregard of their inherent dignity,” the statement said.

An illustration depicts a human embryo at an early stage following the union of an egg and a sperm. A commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops has expressed “deep concern” over a proposed EU law on the use of embryos, cells and “substances of human origin.” (OSV News illustration/CNS file, Emily Thompson)

The Brussels-based commission was reacting to the approval by the European Parliament, on September 12, by 483 votes to 52 and 89 abstentions, of the bill on “Quality and safety standards for substances of human origin intended for human use,” referred to by lawmakers as “SoHO.

The Catholic Church believes, “like many others,” that conceived life has its own dignity, adding that the new measure also threatens the right of EU member states to determine their own social and moral standards.

Meanwhile, the Brussels COMECE secretariat told OSV News that it was disappointed by the European Parliament’s vote, but still hoped its warnings would be heeded when parliament members meet with the political council of the EU, the European Commission, and that a “trilogue” would make it possible to agree on the final text of the law.

“It is clear that not all politicians understand the issues of this complex law – and there is a general appreciation that COMECE and the German Catholic Office have helped to highlight these problems,” the secretariat told OSV News in a telephone statement.

“Even though the vote was against us, it is good that a debate has now been generated and we hope that it continues, as priests and bishops can explain locally why this is really important and begin to lobby against these proposed measures. » It said.

The European Commission announced in 2021 its intention to update and merge two existing directives on the use of human blood, stem cells and tissues in medical experiments, in order to take into account “commercialization and globalization growing” and to allow “a more flexible alignment with scientific and technological advances”. developments. »

The bill, tabled in July 2022 after public consultation, was approved last October by the EU Economic and Social Committee and in July by its Environment and Public Health Committee.

In a statement on September 12, the European Parliament said that EU patients undergo more than 25 million blood transfusions, 35,000 stem cell transplants and one million cycles of assisted reproduction every year, adding that the new law would respond to “citizens’ expectations in terms of establishing common rules”. minimum standards of health care.

He added that the 32,000-word text, approved with 240 amendments, would pose “another obstacle to building a strong European Health Union”, in which EU member states would share medical supplies and respond in conjunction with health crises.

However, in its statement, COMECE said the bill would extend protection only to “born children”, while facilitating genetic testing of embryos and fetuses, and paving the way for “selection” for life.

It adds that national laws would be “overridden by the degradation of human life enshrined in EU law”, and that EU member states must have the right to opt out and maintain their own regulatory framework.

“Human life is not simply a “substance of human origin.” … Human life is not divisible,” the bishops’ commission said. “An embryo is designed to become a human being continuously and without qualitative leaps. »

Created in 1980 to represent European bishops’ conferences to European institutions, COMECE is currently led by Bishop Mariano Crociata of Latina, Italy, with a Spanish general secretary and vice-presidents from Denmark, France, Lithuania and Portugal.

The 16 Commission experts urged a focus on the common good in EU policies on justice, culture and ethics, migration, ecology, religious freedom and others priorities, as well as defending the “legislative competences” of Member States, as enshrined in law. the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, its founding treaty.

However, the bill says the “significant number of options and possibilities” available to member states to implement their own rules has created “barriers to cross-border sharing”, adding that national laws on “drug substances” ‘human origin’ should in the future be ‘based on scientific evidence’, using ‘appropriate and necessary means’ and avoid discrimination ‘against persons on grounds of sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Welcoming the vote of approval on September 12, the European Parliament’s French rapporteur, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, said the new law was essential for “the safety of donors, the well-being of patients, security of supply and the development of innovative medical techniques. that members of Parliament were now ready to discuss its final form.

However, COMECE said the law should be amended to ensure “with legal certainty” that viable embryos and fetuses, however created, are not treated as “mere raw materials” or relegated to the general category “substances of human origin”.

“It is stated that this law should not interfere with ethical decisions taken by member states – this should be included in its operational text, preferably in Article 1,” COMECE said. “National primacy in decisions relating to ethical values” must be anchored “in a legally secure manner”. “The next trilogue will offer the opportunity to find appropriate formulations,” he adds.

Among other recent initiatives, COMECE condemned a June 2022 European Parliament resolution, supported by Social Democratic, Liberal and Green MPs, demanding that abortion be declared a “fundamental right” in all EU member states . The resolution was a response to new state-level abortion restrictions in the United States; The United States Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion regulation to the states after overturning its previous decisions that made access to abortion a constitutional right.

In July, COMECE joined religious leaders around the world to call for a strong European duty of care law, holding European companies accountable for environmental damage and human rights violations.

On September 14, COMECE President Archbishop Crociata called on EU governments to accelerate the conclusion of a pact on migration and asylum, in time for the June 2024 European Parliament elections.

In its statement to OSV News, the COMECE secretariat said the new bill seemed “very complex and technical”, but added that it counted on European Catholics to understand the dangers of “placing embryos and fetus on the same level as simple cells. or plasma.

“By creating an unacceptable equivalence, such definitions degrade the dignity and value of human life,” the secretariat told OSV News.

“We strongly support the principle of subsidiarity, particularly where nation states deliver better policy outcomes than the EU as a whole. The Catholic Church is a major local player, not only here in Europe but throughout the world. Even if politicians don’t agree with what he says, they would do well to take his views seriously.”

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