Catholic Exemptions

While many parents have sought religious exemptions to vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue, the response from those who attempt to deny this right has been that the Catholic Church says the vaccines are “morally acceptable”. In fact, in a June 2005 Statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life under the approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the right to abstain under proper conditions is clearly upheld. See the Vatican Response

Further, the Catholic Church has always upheld the right to follow one’s properly formed Moral Conscience. It is considered a primordial right which cannot be interfered with, especially in religious matters. The following Church documents explain this right, which is fully supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican.

See also: Msgr Suaudeau, PAV,upholds parents right to abstain

In December 2007, the NJ Catholic Conference of Bishops reversed their previous policy of denying religious exemptions at all Catholic schools in the State. Out of 195 dioceses in the country, only 27 remain with such unlawful, stringent – and unwarranted policies.

The following file Below May Be Copied and Pasted into Your Own Word Processing Files and then Printed and Filed With Your State Exemption Forms to Support Catholic Church Teaching. For a sample letter, click here.

The symbol “**************************” indicates appropriate page breaks between documents. Notes in red should be deleted before final copy printing.

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Whereas the supreme teaching authority of the Catholic Church, as illumined by Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the Magisterium of the Church and the Apostolic Authority of our Holy Father, the Pope, and,

Whereas the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon Law binds parents to be primarily responsible for the physical, moral and spiritual formation of their children, and

Whereas the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds abortion to be intrinsically evil, so much so that the consequences of such practice is grave enough to warrant Excommunication, and

Whereas the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican have all denounced both abortion and human fetal tissue research procured from abortion or deliberately destroyed human embryos, and

Whereas the Catechism of the Catholic Church defers to moral conscience as the guideline that states, “In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right”, therefore be it known that:

A Catholic, according to his good, moral conscience and under direct teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has the absolute right to refuse any medical products derived from aborted fetal tissue, including vaccinations, tissue transplants or future products derived from embryonic stem cell research or other areas that in themselves directly contradict the moral laws of the Church.

Be it further noted that the Catholic Church encourages the faithful to use alternative products where they are available, rather than those derived from deliberately destroyed human life and that the Catholic Church accepts such human life to begin at the moment of fertilization through natural death.

These documents include but are not limited to:

  • The authority of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • The Catechism teaching on moral conscience
  • The Fourth Lateran Council on moral conscience
  • Declaration on Religious Freedom – Dignitas Humanae, Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965
  • Dignity of Moral Conscience (The Church in the Modern World, No. 16)
  • Canon Law regarding parental rights
  • Familiaris Consortio, 40 Pope John Paul II
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Parental Duty/Respect for the souls of others
  • The Catechism teachings on abortion
  • The Catechism teachings on human research
  • The Teachings of Sacred Scripture
  • The Teachings of the founding Church fathers (Apostolic tradition)
  • Donum Vitae and Evangelium Vitae


Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (pg 5-6)

3. The Doctrinal Value of the Text

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved June 25th last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the Kingdom!

The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represent a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church, to all particular Churches in peace and communion with the Apostolic See: the service, that is, of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus’ disciples (cf. Lk 22:32), as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith.

Therefore, I ask all the Church’s Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms. It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Eph. 3:8). It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf.1 Pet 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.

This catechism is not intended to replace the local catechisms duly approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences, especially if they have been approved by the Apostolic See. It is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which may take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to catholic doctrine.

At the conclusion of this document presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and Mother of the Church to support with her powerful intercession the catechetical work of the entire Church on every level, at this time when she is called to a new effort of evangelization. May the light of the true faith free humanity from the ignorance and slavery of sin in order to lead it to the only freedom worthy of the name (cf. Jn 8:32): that of life in Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, here below and in the Kingdom of heaven, in the fullness of the blessed vision of God face to face (cf. 1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 5:6-8)!

(Authentic signature copy as printed from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paulist Press 1994, USCC)

Vatican II Encyclicals

1. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, No. 3:

(Dignitas Humanae – Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965)

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of divine law. He is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.

The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. Acts of this kind cannot be commanded or forbidden by any merely human authority.

2. The Church in the Modern World, No. 16: DIGNITY OF MORAL CONSCIENCE

16. 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.9 His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.10 By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and of one’s neighbor. 11

Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the fife of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct. Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance, which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the man who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.

Note 9. Cf. Rom. 2:15-16, 10. Cf. Pius XII, AAS 44 (1952) p. 271, 11.Cf. Mt.11:37-40. Gal. 5:14.


Canon Law

Book III, Title III Can. 793-799

Can. 793
§1. Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.

§2. Parents also have the right to that assistance, to be furnished by civil society, which they need to secure the Catholic education of their children.

Can. 794
§1. The duty and right of educating belongs in a special way to the Church, to which has been divinely entrusted the mission of assisting persons so that they are able to reach the fullness of the Christian life.§2. Pastors of souls have the duty of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education

Can. 796
§1. Among the means to foster education, the Christian faithful are to hold schools in esteem; schools are the principal assistance to parents in fulfilling the function of education.

Can. 797
Parents must possess a true freedom in choosing schools; therefore, the Christian faithful must be concerned that civil society recognizes this freedom for parents and even supports it with subsidies; distributive justice is to be observed.

Can. 799
The Christian faithful are to strive so that in civil society the laws which regulate the formation of youth also provide for their religious and moral education in the schools themselves, according to the conscience of the parents

Book IV Chapter VIII, Can. 1136

Parents have the most grave obligation and the primary right to do all in their power to ensure their children’s physical, social, cultural, moral and religious upbringing.

Familiaris Consortio 40 Pope John Paul II

“The parents have been appointed by God Himself as the first and principal educators of their children…their right is completely inalienable”


The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Moral Conscience

1776 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, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.

1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.  Prudence is ‘right reason in action,’ writes St. Thomas Aquinas. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment.

1777 Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

“Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty of a threat and a promise… [Conscience] is a messenger of him who both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ”. (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.

1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that can make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

1789 Some rules apply in every case:

–  One must never do evil so that good may result from it.
– The Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so for them.
– Charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against  your brethren and wounding their conscience…you sin against Christ.” (1 Cor 8:12)

Reference to the Fourth Lateran Council

“The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the Fourth Lateran council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, aedificat ad gehennam.'” [“Whatever is done in opposition to conscience is conducive to damnation.”]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Parental Duty

2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.”29 The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.30

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children… Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children.

2228 Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom.

2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise


II. Respect for the Dignity of Persons
Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”86 Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others..

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.
Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”


The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Reference pages 547-549

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. (Didache 2, 2:SCh 248, 148;cf. Ep.Barnabae 19, 5:pg 2, 777; Ad Diognetum 5, 6: pg 2, 1173; Tertullian, Apol. 9: PL 1, 319-320

God the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes. (GS 51.3)

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sentinae,” (CIC, can 1398) “by the very commission of the offense” (CIC, can 1314) and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. (Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324)

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard, every human beings right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.” (CDF, Dominum Vitae III)


The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Respect for the person and scientific research
Reference page 552

2293 Basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man’s dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however, they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values, both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits.

2294 It is an illusion to claim moral neutrality in scientific research and its applications. On the other hand, guiding principles cannot be inferred from simple technical efficiency, or from the usefulness accruing to some at the expense of others, or even worse, from prevailing ideologies. Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria. They must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his true and integral good, in conformity with the plan and will of God.

2295 Research or experimentations on the human being cannot legitimate acts that are in themselves contrary to the dignity of persons and to moral law. The subject’s potential consent does not justify such acts. Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject’s life or physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate or avoidable risks.

For Further Doctrine in this area, also see:

Respect for Human Embryos, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (Copies attached)

Donum Vitae, Part I , Conclusion (Copies attached)


Teaching of Holy Scripture on the Sanctity of Life

In that the Catholic Faith is founded on the apostolic teachings found in Holy Scripture, the early teachings of the Church founders, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the teachings from the Vatican, the Church defends the dignity and sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception through natural death. The Bible supports life as it states:

  • That the concept of “life” was regarded as the highest good, while “death” was seen as the worst evil. Hence the challenge found in Deuteronomy 30:19–“Today I have set before you life and death, blessings and cursings. Now choose Life, so that you and your children may live”
  • That man was not a chance or a mere assemblage of cells, but that he was created in the image of God. Hence, the shedding of innocent blood was strictly forbidden (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:16-17)
  • That children were never seen as “unwanted” or as a nuisance (unless later in life they became wicked), but as a gift from God–the highest possible blessing (Psalms 127:3-5, 113:9, Gen. 17:6, 33:5, etc.)
  • That immortality was achieved through one’s descendants. God’s “promise” to Abraham to make of him a great nation was passed on to Isaac, Jacob, etc. “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him,” writes the Psalmist (127:3; See also Gen. 48:16)
  • That sterility and barrenness were seen as a curse, a source of great shame and sorrow. Hence, Peninnah’s harsh ridicule of Hannah, the prophet Samuel’s mother, because of the latter’s initial barrenness (1 Samuel 1:6; see also Gen. 20:17-18, 30:1, 22-23,etc.)
  • That God was at work in the womb fashioning a human for His purposes (Ps.139:13-16, Isa. 49:1,5 , Jer.1:5)
  • That we shall be held accountable before God for our actions: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17)
  • “Thou shalt not kill.” (Commandments given to Moses, Ex 20:13)
  • “From man in regard to his fellow man, I will demand an accounting for human life.” (Gen 9:5)


Teaching of the Church Fathers on Abortion

— Athenagoras (A.D. 177–while defending Christians against murder charges): “What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? For the same person would not regard the fetus in the womb as a living thing and therefore an object of God’s care [and then kill it].” (A Plea for the Christians, 35.6)

— Tertullian (A.D. 197–while defending Christianity against charges of child sacrifice): “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.” (Apology, 9.6)

— Clement of Alexandria (A.D.150-215). “But women who resort to some sort of deadly abortion kill not only the embryos but, along with it, all human kindness.” (Paedagogus, 2.10. 96.1.)

— Basil the Great (374 A.D.). “Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are [deliberate murderers] themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus.” (Letter, 188.2)

— The Didache : “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.”

— The Epistle of Barnabas: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (Didache)

— Apocalypse of Peter [describing a vision of Hell]: “I saw women who produced children out of wedlock and who procured abortions.”


The Teaching of Pope John Paul II – Excerpts from Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life

— “The Second Vatican Council in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person …whatever insults human dignity…whereas people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

— “No word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence.” (Evangelium Vitae, Section 58)

” American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition. Abortion, euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them.”

— “Thus the deepest element of God’s commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person. This is the teaching which the Apostle Paul, echoing the words of Jesus, addresses to the Christians in Rome: ‘The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment are summed up in this sentence, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.’ (Rom 13:9-10)


Part I

Respect for Human Embryos

Careful reflection on this teaching of the Magisterium and on the evidence of reason, as mentioned above, enables us to respond to the numerous moral problems posed by technical interventions upon the human being in the first phases of his life and upon the processes of his conception.

What Respect is Due to the Human Embryo, Taking into Account His Nature and Identity?

The human being must be respected–as a person–from the very first instant of his existence.

The implementation of procedures of artificial fertilization has made possible various interventions upon embryos and human fetuses. The aims pursued are of various kinds: diagnostic and therapeutic, scientific and commercial. From all of this, serious problems arise. Can one speak of a right to experimentation upon human embryos for the purpose of scientific research? What norms or laws should be worked out with regard to this matter?

The response to these problems presupposes a detailed reflection on the nature and specific identity–the word “status” is used–of the human embryo itself.

At the Second Vatican Council, the Church for her part presented once again to modern man her constant and certain doctrine according to which: “Life once conceived, must be protected with the utmost care; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” More recently the Charter of the Rights of the Family, published by the Holy See, [23] confirmed that “Human life must be absolutely respected and protected from the moment of conception.” [24]

This Congregation is aware of the current debates concerning the beginning of human life, concerning the individuality of the human being and concerning the identity of the human person. The Congregation recalls the teachings found in the Declaration on Procured Abortion: “From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother: it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. To this perpetual evidence … modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, the program is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man, this individual-man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of human life, and each of its great capacities requires time … to find its place and to be in a position to act.”[27] This


teaching remains valid and is further confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by recent findings of human biological science which recognize that in the zygote* resulting from fertilization the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted.

Certainly no experimental datum can be in itself sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a spiritual soul; nevertheless, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person? The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable.[26]

Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. This doctrinal reminder provides the fundamental criterion for the solution of the various problems posed by the development of the biomedical sciences in this field: since the embryo must be treated as a person, it must also be defended in its integrity, tended and cared for, to the extent possible, in the same way as any other human being as far as medical assistance is concerned.
*The zygote is the cell produced when the nuclei of the two gametes have fused.

How Is One to Evaluate Morally Research and Experimentation* on Human Embryos and Fetuses?

Medical research must refrain from operations on live embryos, unless there is a moral certainty of not causing harm to the life or integrity of the unborn child and the mother, and on condition that the parents have given their free and informed consent to the procedure. It follows that all research, even when limited to the simple observation of the embryo, would become illicit were it to involve risk to the embryo’s physical integrity or life by reason of the methods used or the effects induced.

As regards experimentation, and presupposing the general distinction between experimentation for purposes which are not directly therapeutic and experimentation which is clearly therapeutic for the subject himself, in the case in point one must also distinguish between experimentation carried out on embryos which are still alive and experimentation carried out on embryos which are dead. If the embryos are living, whether viable or not, they must be respected just like any other human person; experimentation on embryos which is not directly therapeutic is illicit.[29]

No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother’s womb. The informed consent ordinarily required for clinical experimentation on adults cannot be granted by the parents, who may not freely dispose of the physical integrity or life of the unborn child. Moreover, experimentation on embryos and fetuses always involves risk, and indeed in most cases it involves the certain expectation of harm to their physical integrity or even their death.

To use human embryos or fetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person.

The Charter or the Rights of the Family published by the Holy See affirms: “Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo.”[30] The practice of keeping alive human embryos in vivo or in vitro for experimental or commercial purposes is totally opposed to human dignity.

In the case of experimentation that is clearly therapeutic, namely, when it is a matter of experimental forms of therapy used for the benefit of the embryo itself in a final attempt to save its life, and in the absence of other reliable forms of therapy, recourse to drugs or procedures not yet fully tested can be licit.[31]

The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. In particular, they cannot be subjected to mutilation or to autopsies if their death has not yet been verified and without the consent of the parents or of the mother. Furthermore, the moral requirements must be safeguarded that there be no complicity in deliberate abortion and that the risk of scandal be avoided. Also, in the case of dead fetuses, as for the corpses of adult persons, all commercial trafficking must be considered illicit and should be prohibited.
*Since the terms “research” and “experimentation” are often used equivalently and ambiguously, it is deemed necessary to specify the exact meaning given them in this document.
1. By research is meant any inductive-deductive process which aims at promoting the systematic observation of a given phenomenon in the human field or at verifying a hypothesis arising from previous observations.
2. By experimentation is meant any research in which the human being (in the various stages of his existence: embryo, fetus, child or adult) represents the object through which or upon which one intends to verify the effect, at present unknown or not sufficiently known, of a given treatment (e.g. pharmacological, teratogenic, surgical, etc.).



The spread of technologies of intervention in the processes of human procreation raises very serious moral problems in relation to the respect due to the human being from the moment of conception, to the dignity of the person, of his or her sexuality and the transmission of life.

With this instruction the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in fulfilling its responsibility to promote and defend the Church’s teaching in so serious a matter, addresses a new and heartfelt invitation to all those who, by reason of their role and their commitment, can exercise a positive influence and ensure that, in the family and in society, due respect is accorded to life and love. It addresses this invitation to those responsible for the formation of consciences and of public opinion, to scientists and medical professionals, to jurists and politicians. It hopes that all will understand the incompatibility between recognition of the dignity of the human person and contempt for life and love, between faith in the living God and the claim to decide arbitrarily the origin and fate of a human being.

In particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addresses an invitation with the confidence and encouragement to theologians, and above all to moralists, that they study more deeply and make ever more accessible to the faithful the contents of the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium in the light of a valid anthropology in the matter of sexuality and marriage and in the context of the necessary interdisciplinary approach. Thus they will make it possible to understand ever more clearly the reasons for the validity of this teaching. By defending man against the excesses of his own power, the Church of God reminds him of the reasons for his true nobility; only in this way can the possibility of living and loving with that dignity and liberty which derive from respect for the truth be ensured for the men and women of tomorrow. The precise indications which are offered in the present instruction, therefore, are not meant to halt the effort of reflection but rather to give it a renewed impulse in unrenounceable fidelity to the teaching of the Church.

In the light of the truth about the gift of human life and in the light of the moral principles which flow from that truth, everyone in invited to act in the area of responsibility proper to each, and like the good Samaritan, to recognize as a neighbor even the littlest among the children of men. (cf. Lk. 10:29-37). Here Christ’s words find a new and particular echo: “What you do to one of the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Mt. 25:40).

During an audience granted to the undersigned Prefect after the plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, approved this instruction and ordered it to be published.

Given at Rome, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 22, 1987, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle. JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER Prefect, ALBERTO BOVONE Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia (Donum Vitae The Gift of Life)