Released by the Vatican on March 30, 1995 along with the encyclical.

From its very title, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the new encyclical of Pope John Paul II demonstrates its highly positive character and its great spiritual thrust. While realistically countering unprecedented threats to life and the spread of a “culture of death,” the primary intention of the papal document is to proclaim the good news of the value and dignity of each human life, of its grandeur and worth, also in its temporal phase. The cause of life is in fact at the same time the cause of the Gospel and the cause of man, the cause entrusted to the church.

The encyclical is presented with great doctrinal authority: It is not only an expression, like every other encyclical, of the ordinary magisterium of the pope, but also of the episcopal collegiality which was manifested first in the extraordinary consistory of cardinals in April 1991 and subsequently in a consultation of all the bishops of the Catholic Church, who unanimously and firmly agree with the teaching imparted in it (No. 5). This teaching is in substance “a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability,” and also “a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person in the name of God: Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness” (No. 5).


1. Present-day Threats to Human Life

The first chapter of the papal document is devoted to an analysis of the lights and the shadows of the present-day situation with regard to human life.

First there is a denunciation of the proliferation and increased intensity of threats to life, especially when life is weak and defenseless at its very beginning and at its end: abortion, immoral experimentation on human embryos, euthanasia. There is a clear description of the unprecedented and specific features of these crimes against life: At the level of public opinion they are claimed to be rights based on individual freedom; there is a trend toward their recognition in law; they are carried out with the help of medical science. This involves a distortion of society’s nature and purpose and of the constitutional state itself: Democracy, if detached from its moral foundations and linked to an unlimited ethical relativism, risks becoming the pretext for a war of the stronger against the weaker; the roles of health care personnel tend to be subverted: Instead of respectful service of life, they lend themselves to actions which bring about death.

The causes of this “culture of death” which threatens man and civilization are traced by the Holy Father to a perverse idea of freedom, which is seen as disconnected from any reference to truth and objective good, and which asserts itself in an individualistic way, without the constitutive link of relationships with others. Associated with this is a practical materialism which gives priority to having over being, the satisfaction of personal pleasure over respect for those who are weak, and which ends by considering life worthwhile only to the extent that it is productive and enjoyable; suffering is considered useless, sacrifice for the sake of others unjustified. Underlying all this is a loss of the sense of God. But “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man” (No. 21).

These threats are interpreted by the pope in the context of that perennial conflict between life and death which emerged at the very beginning of human history and which sacred Scripture testifies to in the events of Cain, who because of envy “rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gn. 4:8); of the ancient pharaoh who, viewing as a threat the increasing numbers of the children of Israel, ordered that every newborn male of the Hebrew women should be put to death; of Herod who, out of fear for his throne, “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem” (Mt. 2:16); and finally of the apocalyptic conflict in which “the dragon stood before the woman …that he might devour her child when she brought it forth” (Rv. 12:4). Human life, especially when weak and defenseless, has always been threatened by the forces of evil.

Although the blood of Abel and of all innocent victims of violence cries out to God, the precious blood of Christ, the sign of his self-gift (Jn. 13:1), “speaks more eloquently” (Heb. 12:24). It reveals the value of human life in the eyes of God, who for the sake of life gave his only Son, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This is the basis of the absolute certainty that, according to God’s plan, the victory will belong to life. In fact there are already signs of this victory, signs of hope, sometimes more hidden, less obtrusive, but significant: families which freely accept abandoned children and older people; volunteer work in the service of life; movements and programs of social consciousness raising in support of life; generous and respectful involvement in the medical profession and in scientific research; sensitivity to bioethical questions and ecology; a growing aversion to the death penalty. Above all, the daily gestures of welcome, sacrifice and selfless concern shown to the “little ones” and to the most needy are spreading around the world “the civilization of life and of love.” In this dramatic conflict, which has lasted throughout history and is taking on new characteristics in our time, God’s call is heard clearly and powerfully: “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil…. Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Dt. 30:15, 19).


2. Life as Gift

The second chapter is in the form of a meditation on the Christian message regarding life. In fact, “the Gospel of life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus” (No. 29). As St. Paul says, it was “our Savior Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (2 Tm. 1:10).

The light of revelation, which reaches its fullness in Jesus Christ, confirms and completes all that human reason can grasp concerning the value of human life. Precious and fragile, full of promises and threatened by suffering and death, man’s life on earth bears within itself that seed of immortal life planted by the Creator in the human heart (cf. No. 31). That life is the object of God’s tender and intense love, especially in the poor, the weak and the defenseless: “Truly great must be the value of human life if the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the salvation of humanity!”(No. 33).

At this point we come to the decisive question, Why is life a good? Why is it always a good? The answer is simple and clear: because it is a gift from the Creator, who breathed into man the divine breath, thus making the human person the image of God. While sin darkens life by threatening it with death and throwing into doubt its nature as a gift, redemption, achieved in the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, redeems its worth, lifting it up to unheard-of heights in the prospect of the gift of eternal life. Gratuitously the Father calls each individual, in his Son, to partake of the fullness of divine life by becoming “sons and daughters in the Son.” The sublime dignity of human life thus shines forth not only in the light of its origin, but even more so in the light of its destiny.

Earthly life, which is at once both relativized and given new value, opens up to the prospect of eternal life. It is not an absolute value in itself: It is entrusted to man as a beginning to be made fruitful for eternity as a first gift which will reach its fullness if, after the example of Christ and with his power, it succeeds in becoming a gift of love of God and of others. This is the truest and most profound meaning of life: The gift is accomplished in self-giving. “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:35). The martyrs freely gave their lives out of love, showing that our earthly existence is not something absolute to which we should cling at all costs. “No one, however, can arbitrarily choose whether to live or die; the absolute master of such a decision is the Creator alone, in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28)” (No. 47).

3. Life as Responsibility

As a precious and fragile gift which is meant to bear fruits of love, life is entrusted to man’s responsibility. From its very beginning until its natural end, life is sacred and inviolable: It belongs to the Lord, it is under his special protection and individuals cannot dispose of it at their own whim. “From man in regard to his fellowman (the Lord) will demand an accounting for human life” (Gn. 9:5). This original truth, testified to by all of humanity’s great religious and philosophical traditions, his truth which lies in the depths of every individual’s conscience like an echo of the voice of the Creator, is also at the center of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. The commandment “you shall not kill,” which expresses it in the form of a concise command, is at the heart of the Ten Commandments given at Sinai (cf. Ex. 34:28). In the New Testament, Jesus not only repeated this commandment as the first to be kept in order to enter into life (cf. Mt. 19:16-18), but also showed its positive implications (cf. Mt. 5:21ff), which involve the heart and which extend to everyone, to the point of loving even one’s enemies (cf. Mt. 5:44). Thus, “only when people are open to the fullness of the truth about God, man and history will the words ‘you shall not kill’ shine forth once more as a good for man in himself and in his relations with others” (No. 48).

It is this commandment not to kill, in the light of the Gospel of life, that the third chapter of the encyclical seeks to put forward once more, applying it to the unprecedented situations in which life is being threatened today. The pope wishes to reaffirm the absolute and permanent value of the commandment not to kill which is at the heart of God’s covenant with man. He shows that the commandment is not a limit but a gift, which invites freedom to follow the paths of respect, service and love of life. The negative formulation of the moral imperative indicates the outer limit which can never be crossed, but implicitly it encourages a positive and constructive attitude, one of commitment in favor of man.

After recalling certain traditional moral distinctions concerning the legitimacy of self-defense against an unjust aggressor and concerning capital punishment, of which morally justifiable applications today are said to be “very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (No. 56), the papal document proposes certain moral truths in relation to respect for human life.

In the first place it declares “the direct and voluntary taking of all innocent human life” as “always gravely immoral” (No. 57). This principle is then applied to abortion and euthanasia. Regarding procured abortion (defined as “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, extending from conception to birth” [No. 58]), the encyclical affirms that “direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder” (No. 62). This moral judgment is also to be applied to forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of those embryos, either in experimentation or their use and the use of human fetuses as “biological material” or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants (cf. No. 63). Euthanasia, which is defined as “an act or omission which of itself and by intention causes death with the purpose of eliminating all suffering,” and is carefully distinguished from so-called “aggressive medical treatment” and from “methods of palliative care,” is called “a grave violation of the law of God” (No. 65).

Here we are speaking of doctrinal affirmations of very high magisterial authority, presented with particular solemnity by the supreme pontiff. Exercising his own magisterial authority as the successor of Peter, in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, he “confirms” (or also, in the case of abortion, “declares”) a doctrine “based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God,” “transmitted by the church’s tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” In this connection, in the case of each of the three doctrinal formulations there is a significant reference in a note to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which in Paragraph 25 declares that the bishops, “even though dispersed throughout the world, but preserving for all that among themselves and with Peter’s successor the bond of communion,” when “in their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held definitively,” “proclaim infallibly the doctrine of Christ.”

Pope John Paul II does not fail to mention the tragic circumstances and the pressures from the family, the living conditions and social environment which sometimes mark those very serious choices against life and thereby diminish the moral responsibility of the person making them. These choices are sometimes also cloaked with specious justifications and “false mercy,” while choices in favor of life sometimes appear not only difficult but even heroic. It is for this reason that the pope is urging a proclamation of the Gospel concerning life, its sacred value and inviolability, the duty to respect and care for it, and its value even in suffering and in the face of death.

The relationship between civil law and the moral law is next examined. Indeed, “one of the characteristics of present-day attacks on human life … consists in the trend to demand a legal justification for them” (No. 68). The encyclical recognizes that the task of civil law is different and more limited than that of the moral law. Civil law cannot take the place of conscience or dictate moral norms, but it has the specific role of “ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defense of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality” (No. 71). Therefore, although it sometimes has to choose not to put a stop to something which, were it prohibited, would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize, as the right of individuals, the offense inflicted on other persons through the disregarding of so fundamental a right as the right to life. In this sense, while taking different situations into account, civil law must safeguard the moral foundation of justice and of respect for everyone’s inviolable and inalienable rights, without which the will of the stronger replaces the import of the rights of each individual. Democracy cannot be defined simply by reference to the formal principle of the majority, but must be characterized by a moral basis of respect for all and especially for the rights of the weakest and the most defenseless, those who have no voice and no vote.

The legal norms legitimizing abortion and euthanasia, which are radically opposed to justice, the common good and the fundamental rights of the individual, lack authentic juridical validity. In the face of these laws, the right to conscientious objection at least must be recognized, this being a serious obligation for the Christian, who cannot formally cooperate in evil. Consequently, there remains the commitment of everyone to promote more just legislation, which will change laws contrary to the right to life and its inviolability.

4. Life as a Task to Be Promoted

But the commandment “you shall not kill” establishes only the point of departure of a journey to true freedom, a journey which must lead to the active promotion of life, the development of attitudes and modes of behavior which serve life. It is to this positive and constructive prospect that the fourth and final chapter of the document of Pope John Paul II is devoted: “for a new culture of human life.”

First of all, the pope points out that the “Gospel of life” is at the heart of the evangelizing mission of the church, which must proclaim Jesus, the “Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1), the one in whom “the life was made manifest” (1 Jn. 1:2). The church, defined in a new and expressive way as “the people of life,” has the task of proclaiming, celebrating and serving life.

Against doubts, skepticism, obscurity and falsehoods, it is a question of proclaiming in its entirety the joyful message of the value of life; the commandment “you shall not kill” is also part of this message. Ever nourished by the word of God, the church has the primary task of ensuring that the Gospel of life reaches the heart of every man and woman, and that it finds its way into the hidden recesses of the whole of society.

She is called also to celebrate the gift of life, considering it with a contemplative and grateful spirit in the light of God’s love made manifest in his Son Jesus. The sacraments of the church in an eminent manner, but also the many rituals of various popular and cultural traditions as well as those of everyday life must be means of experiencing joy for this gift, means which help to sustain people in moments of trial and by which their gaze is fixed on the Creator, from whom life comes and to whom it returns.

The mission of the Christian and of the church on behalf of life is fulfilled through the service of charity because charity leads us “to show care for all life and for the life of everyone” (No. 87), with a profound attitude of solidarity in every condition and situation, without prejudice or discrimination. Mention is made of the extraordinary history of charity in the church, which introduced into society a host of organizations at the service of life. The Holy Father exhorts us to strengthen and continue today the numerous projects which have been undertaken in this regard, calling for creative innovation in responding adequately to new challenges. In the area of professional health care, volunteer services, education, social involvement and political commitment and in the face of complex demographic problems, it is a question of fostering mature attitudes and finding solutions which respect life.

In particular, at the center of attention must be the family, the “sanctuary of life,” in which life is welcomed, nourished, brought up and supported, and taken care of in sickness. However, the family needs to be helped by a social context which is favorable to these values and by policies which promote its primary and irreplaceable role.

It is a question, the pope affirms, of bringing about a true transformation of culture: the promotion of a “culture of life,” in which human freedom will find its authentic meaning by joining forces with truth, life and love. This culture needs new lifestyles which will show respect for the dignity of every individual, especially the weakest, which will recognize the value of human sexuality in the development of the person, and which will accept the mysterious meaning of suffering and of death. A very special task is entrusted to women, who are particularly close to the mystery of life, who are called to be its guardians and to reveal its fruitfulness when that task matures into relationships marked by unselfish giving and willing service. These are the demands of a “new feminism,” which, free from individualism, will favor the culture of life. The pope addresses particularly moving words to women who have had abortions. He invites them to be open to repentance, with humility and trust (cf. No. 99). Prayer and fasting, finally, are the great resources which will bring about the purification of all hearts in this great undertaking of proclaiming the Gospel of life on behalf of the whole of human society and for the sake of peace (No. 101).

This important magisterial document of Pope John Paul II closes with a trusting appeal to Mary, the “mother of life.” Contemplating the scene in the Book of Revelation of the struggle between the woman who is about to give birth and the dragon which sets a snare for the life of the child, the pope invites us to recognize that throughout history “life is always at the center of a great struggle” (No. 104). But in the mutual relationship between the motherhood of Mary and her own motherhood toward all men and women, the church finds a source of great hope. Mary is the “living word of consolation” on history’s difficult journey: To her, with filial confidence, the pope entrusts the cause of life.


VIVO’14 is the annual pro-life gathering organized under the patronage of St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago and SyroMalankara Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in the USA. Major events during the week will be The 2nd National Pro-Life Conference and the March for Life. The conference aims to provide Catholic life lessons for the youth and families and equip them to STAND for Life.


CARE4Life "A unique responsibility belongs to health-care personnel: doctors, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, men and women religious, administrators and volunteers. Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness." EV 89


2. You do not expect Us to discuss the medical questions which concern you. Those are your domain. During the past few days you have taken a general view of the vast field of research and work which is yours. Now, in answer to the wish you yourselves have expressed, We want to draw your attention to the limits of this field-not the limits of medical possibilities, of theoretical and practical medical knowledge, but the limits of moral rights and duties. We wish to make Ourself the interpreter of the moral conscience of the research worker, the specialist and the practioner and of the man and Christian who follows the same path.

3. In your reports and discussions you have caught sight of many new roads, but there remain a number of questions still unsolved. The bold spirit of research incites one to follow newly discovered roads, to extend them, to create new ones and to renew methods. A serious, competent doctor will often see with a sort of spontaneous intuition the moral legality of what he proposes to do and will act according to his conscience. But there are other instances where he does not have this security, where he may see or think he sees the contrary with certainty or where he doubts and wavers between Yes and No. In the most serious and profound matters, the man in the physician is not content with examining from a medical point of view what he can attempt and succeed in. He also wants to see his way clearly in regard to moral possibilities and obligations.

4. We would like to set forth briefly the essential principles which permit an answer to be given to this question. The application to specific cases you will make yourselves in your role of doctor, because only the doctor understands the medical evidence thoroughly both in itself and in its effects and because without exact knowledge of the medical facts it is impossible to determine what moral principle applies to the treatment under discussion. The doctor, therefore, looks at the medical aspect of the case, the moralist, the laws of morality. Ordinarily, when explained and completed mutually, the medical and moral evidence will make possible a reliable decision as to the moral legality of the case in all its concrete aspects.

5. In order to justify the morality of new procedures, new attempts and methods of research and medical treatment, three main principles must be kept in mind:

1) The interests of medical science.

2) The interests of the individual patient to be treated.

3) The interests of the community, the “bonum commune.”

6. We ask whether these three interests, taken singly or even together, have absolute value in motivating and justifying medical treatment or whether they are valid merely within certain determined limits? In the latter case, what are these limits? To this We shall try to give a brief answer.

I. The Interests of Science as Justification for Research and the Use of New Methods.

7. Scientific knowledge has its own value in the domain of medical science no less than in other scientific domains, such as, for example, physics, chemistry, cosmology and psychology. It is a value which must certainly not be minimized, a value existing quite independently of the usefulness or use of the acquired knowledge. Moreover, knowledge as such and the full understanding of any truth raise no moral objection. By virtue of this principle, research and the acquisition of truth for arriving at new, wider and deeper knowledge and understanding of the same truth are in themselves in accordance with the moral order.

8. But this does not mean that all methods, or any single method, arrived at by scientific and technical research offers every moral guarantee. Nor, moreover, does it mean that every method becomes licit because it increases and deepens our knowledge. Sometimes it happens that a method cannot be used without injuring the rights of others or without violating some moral rule of absolute value. In such a case, although one rightly envisages and pursues the increase of knowledge, morally the method is not admissible. Why not? Because science is not the highest value, that to which all other orders of values-or in the same order of value, all particular values-should be subordinated. Science itself, therefore, as well as its research and acquisitions, must be inserted in the order of values. Here there are well defined limits which even medical science cannot transgress without violating higher moral rules. The confidential relations between doctor and patient, the personal right of the patient to the life of his body and soul in its psychic and moral integrity are just some of the many values superior to scientific interest. This point will become more obvious as We proceed.

9. Although one must recognize in the “interests of science” a true value that the moral law allows man to preserve, increase and widen, one cannot concede the following statement: “Granted, obviously, that the doctor’s intervention is determined by scientific interest and that he observes the rules of his profession, there are no limits to the methods for increasing and deepening medical science.” Even on this condition, one cannot just concede this principle.

II. The Interests of the Patient as Justification of New Medical Methods of Research and Treatment.

10. In this connection, the basic considerations may be set out in the following form: “The medical treatment of the patient demands taking a certain step. This in itself proves its moral legality.” Or else: “A certain new method hitherto neglected or little used will give possible, probable or sure results. All ethical considerations as to the licitness of this method are obsolete and should be treated as pointless.”

11. How can anyone fail to see that in these statements truth and falsehood are intermingled? In a very large number of cases the “interests of the patient” do provide the moral justification of the doctor’s conduct. Here again, the question concerns the absolute value of this principle. Does it prove by itself, does it make it evident that what the doctor wants to do conforms to the moral law?

12. In the first place it must be assumed that, as a private person, the doctor can take no measure or try no course of action without the consent of the patient. The doctor has no other rights or power over the patient than those which the latter gives him, explicitly or implicitly and tacitly. On his side, the patient cannot confer rights he does not possess. In this discussion the decisive point is the moral licitness of the right a patient has to dispose of himself. Here is the moral limit to the doctor’s action taken with the consent of the patient.

13. As for the patient, he is not absolute master of himself, of his body or of his soul. He cannot, therefore, freely dispose of himself as he pleases. Even the reason for which he acts is of itself neither sufficient nor determining. The patient is bound to the immanent teleology laid down by nature. He has the right of use, limited by natural finality, of the faculties and powers of his human nature. Because he is a user and not a proprietor, he does not have unlimited power to destroy or mutilate his body and its functions. Nevertheless, by virtue of the principle of totality, by virtue of his right to use the services of his organism as a whole, the patient can allow individual parts to be destroyed or mutilated when and to the extent necessary for the good of his being as a whole. He may do so to ensure his being’s existence and to avoid or, naturally, to repair serious and lasting damage which cannot otherwise be avoided or repaired.

14. The patient, then, has no right to involve his physical or psychic integrity in medical experiments or research when they entail serious destruction, mutilation, wounds or perils. 15. Moreover, in exercising his right to dispose of himself, his faculties and his organs, the individual must observe the hierarchy of the orders of values-or within a single order of values, the hierarchy of particular rights -insofar as the rules of morality demand. Thus, for example, a man cannot perform on himself or allow doctors to perform acts of a physical or somatic nature which doubtless relieve heavy physical or psychic burdens or infirmities, but which bring about at the same time permanent abolition or considerable and durable diminution of his freedom, that is, of his human personality in its typical and characteristic function. Such an act degrades a man to the level of a being reacting only to acquired reflexes or to a living automation. The moral law does not allow such a reversal of values. Here it sets up its limits to the “medical interests of the patient.”

16. Here is another example. In order to rid himself of repressions, inhibitions or psychic complexes man is not free to arouse in himself for therapeutic purposes each and every appetite of a sexual order which is being excited or has been excited in his being, appetites whose impure waves flood his unconscious or subconscious mind. He cannot make them the object of his thoughts and fully conscious desires with all the shocks and repercussions such a process entails. For a man and a Christian there is a law of integrity and personal purity, of self-respect, forbidding him to plunge so deeply into the world of sexual suggestions and tendencies. Here the “medical and psychotherapeutic interests of the patient” find a moral limit. It is not proved-it is, in fact, incorrect-that the pansexual method of a certain school of psychoanalysis is an indispensable integrating part of all psychotherapy which is serious and worthy of the name. It is not proved that past neglect of this method has caused grave psychic damage, errors in doctrine and application in education, in psychotherapy and still less in pastoral practice. It is not proved that it is urgent to fill this gap and to initiate all those interested in psychic questions in its key ideas and even, if necessary, in the practical application of this technique of sexuality.

17. We speak this way because today these assertions are too often made with apodictic assurance. Where instincts are concerned it would be better to pay more attention to indirect treatment and to the action of the conscious psyche on the whole of imaginative and affective activity. This technique avoids the deviations We have mentioned. It tends to enlighten, cure and guide; it also influences the dynamic of sexuality, on which people insist so much and which they say is to be found, or really exists, in the unconscious or subconscious.

18. Up to now We have spoken directly of the patient, not of the doctor. We have explained at what point the personal right of the patient to dispose of himself, his mind, his body, his faculties, organs and functions, meets a moral limit. But at the same time We have answered the question: Where does the doctor find a moral limit in research into and use of new methods and procedures in the “interests of the patient?” The limit is the same as that for the patient. It is that which is fixed by the judgment of sound reason, which is set by the demands of the natural moral law, which is deduced from the natural teleology inscribed in beings and from the scale of values expressed by the nature of things. The limit is the same for the doctor as for the patient because, as We have already said, the doctor as a private individual disposes only of the rights given him by the patient and because the patient can give only what he himself possesses.

19. What We say here must be extended to the legal representatives of the person incapable of caring for himself and his affairs: children below the age of reason, the feebleminded and the insane. These legal representatives, authorized by private decision or by public authority have no other rights over the body and life of those they represent than those people would have themselves if they were capable. And they have those rights to the same extent. They cannot, therefore, give the doctor permission to dispose of them outside those limits.

III. The Interests of the Community as Justification of New Medical Methods of Research and Treatment.

20. For the moral justification of the doctor’s right to try new approaches, new methods and procedures We invoke a third interest, the interest of the community, of human society, the common good or “bonum commune,” as the philosopher and social student would say.

21. There is no doubting the existence of such a common good. Nor can we question the fact that it calls for and justifies further research. The two interests of which We have already spoken, that of science and that of the patient, are closely allied to the general interest.

22. Nevertheless, for the third time we come back to the question: Is there any moral limit to the “medical interests of the community” in content or extension? Are there “full powers” over the living man in every serious medical case? Does it raise barriers that are still valid in the interests of science or the individual? Or, stated differently: Can public authority, on which rests responsibility for the common good, give the doctor the power to experiment on the individual in the interests of science and the community in order to discover and try out new methods and procedures when these experiments transgress the right of the individual to dispose of himself? In the interests of the community, can public authority really limit or even suppress the right of the individual over his body and life, his bodily and psychic integrity?

23. To forestall an objection, We assume that it is a question of serious research, of honest efforts to promote the theory and practice of medicine, not of a maneuver serving as a scientific pretext to mask other ends and achieve them with impunity.

24. In regard to these questions many people have been of the opinion and are still of the opinion today, that the answer must be in the affirmative. To give weight to their contention they cite the fact that the individual is subordinated to the community, that the good of the individual must give way to the common good and be sacrificed to it. They add that the sacrifice of an individual for purposes of research and scientific investigation profits the individual in the long run.

25. The great postwar trials brought to light a terrifying number of documents testifying to the sacrifice of the individual in the “medical interests of the community.” In the minutes of these trials one finds testimony and reports showing how, with the consent and, at times, even under the formal order of public authority, certain research centers systematically demanded to be furnished with persons from concentration camps for their medical experiments. One finds how they were delivered to such centers, so many men, so many women, so many for one experiment, so many for another. There are reports on the conduct and the results of such experiments, of the subjective and objective symptoms observed during the different phases of the experiments. One cannot read these reports without feeling a profound compassion for the victims, many of whom went to their deaths, and without being frightened by such an aberration of the human mind and heart. But We can also add that those responsible for these atrocious deeds did no more than to reply in the affirmative to the question We have asked and to accept the practical consequences of their affirmation.

26. At this point is the interest of the individual subordinated to the community’s medical interests, or is there here a transgression, perhaps in good faith, against the most elementary demands of the natural law, a transgression that permits no medical research?

27. One would have to shut one’s eyes to reality to believe that at the present time one could find no one in the medical world to hold and defend the ideas that gave rise to the facts We have cited. It is enough to follow for a short time the reports on medical efforts and experiments to convince oneself of the contrary. Involuntarily one asks oneself what has authorized, and what could ever authorize, any doctor’s daring to try such an experiment. The experiment is described in all its stages and effects with calm objectivity. What is verified and what is not is noted. But there is not a word on its moral legality. Nevertheless, this question exists, and one cannot suppress it by passing it over in silence.

28. In the above mentioned cases, insofar as the moral justification of the experiments rests on the mandate of public authority, and therefore on the subordination of the individual to the community, of the individual’s welfare to the common welfare, it is based on an erroneous explanation of this principle. It must be noted that, in his personal being, man is not finally ordered to usefulness to society. On the contrary, the community exists for man.

29. The community is the great means intended by nature and God to regulate the exchange of mutual needs and to aid each man to develop his personality fully according to his individual and social abilities. Considered as a whole, the community is not a physical unity subsisting in itself and its individual members are not integral parts of it. Considered as a whole, the physical organism of living beings, of plants, animals or man, has a unity subsisting in itself. Each of the members, for example, the hand, the foot, the heart, the eye, is an integral part destined by all its being to be inserted in the whole organism. Outside the organism it has not, by its very nature, any sense, any finality. It is wholly absorbed by the totality of the organism to which it is attached.

30. In the moral community and in every organism of a purely moral character, it is an entirely different story. Here the whole has no unity subsisting in itself, but a simple unity of finality and action. In the community individuals are merely collaborators and instruments for the realization of the common end.

31. What results as far as the physical organism is concerned? The master and user of this organism, which possesses a subsisting unity, can dispose directly and immediately of integral parts, members and organs within the scope of their natural finality. He can also intervene, as often as and to the extent that the good of the whole demands, to paralyze, destroy, mutilate and separate the members. But, on the contrary, when the whole has only a unity of finality and action, its head-in the present case, the public authority-doubtlessly holds direct authority and the right to make demands upon the activities of the parts, but in no case can it dispose of its physical being. Indeed, every direct attempt upon its essence constitutes an abuse of the power of authority.

32. Now medical experiments-the subject We are discussing here immediately and directly affect the physical being, either of the whole or of the several organs, of the human organism. But, by virtue of the principle We have cited, public authority has no power in this sphere. It cannot, therefore, pass it on to research workers and doctors. It is from the State, however, that the doctor must receive authorization when he acts upon the organism of the individual in the “interests of the community.” For then he does not act as a private individual, but as a mandatory of the public power. The latter cannot, however, pass on a right that it does not possess, save in the case already mentioned when it acts as a deputy, as the legal representative of a minor for as long as he cannot make his own decisions, of a person of feeble mind or of a lunatic.

33. Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of theenjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live.

34. We cannot refrain from explaining once more the point treated in this third part in the light of the principle to which one customarily appeals in like cases. We mean the principle of totality. This principle asserts that the part exists for the whole and that, consequently, the good of the part remains subordinated to the good of the whole, that the whole is a determining factor for the part and can dispose of it in its own interest. This principle flows from the essence of ideas and things and must, therefore, have an absolute value.

35. We respect the principle of totality in itself but, in order to be able to apply it correctly, one must always explain certain premises first. The basic premise is that of clarifying the quaestio facto, the question of fact. Are the objects to which the principle is applied in the relation of a whole to its parts? A second premise is the clarification of the nature, extension and limitation of this relationship. Is it on the level of essence or merely on that of action, or on both? Does it apply to the part under a certain aspect or in all its relations? And, in the field where it applies, does it absorb the part completely or still leave it a limited finality, a limited independence? The answers to these questions can never be inferred from the principle of totality itself. That would be a vicious circle. They must be drawn from other facts and other knowledge. The principle of totality itself affirms only this: where the relationship of a whole to its part holds good, and in the exact measure it holds good, the part is subordinated to the whole and the whole, in its own interest, can dispose of the part. Too often, unfortunately, in invoking the principle of totality, people leave these considerations aside, not only in the field of theoretical study and the field of application of law, sociology, physics, biology and medicine, but also of logic, psychology and metaphysics.

36. Our plan was to draw your attention to certain principles of deontology which define the limits and confines of research and experimentation in regard to new medical methods to be immediately applied to living men.

37. In the domain of your science it is an obvious law that the application of new methods to living men must be preceded by research on cadavers or the model of study and experimentation on animals. Sometimes, however, this procedure is found to be impossible, insufficient or not feasible from a practical point of view. In this case, medical research will try to work on its immediate object, the living man, in the interests of science, in the interests of the patient and in the interests of the community. Such a procedure is not to be rejected without further consideration. But you must stop at the limits laid down by the moral principles We have explained.

38. Without doubt, before giving moral authorization to the use of new methods, one cannot ask that any danger or any risk be excluded. That would exceed human possibilities, paralyze all serious scientific research and very frequently be to the detriment of the patient. In these cases the weighing of the danger must be left to the judgment of the tried and competent doctor. Nevertheless, as Our explanation has shown, there is a degree of danger that morality cannot allow. In doubtful cases, when means already known have failed, it may happen that a new method still insufficiently tried offers, together with very dangerous elements, appreciable chances of success. If the patient gives his consent, the use of the procedure in question is licit. But this way of acting cannot be upheld as a line of conduct in normal cases.

39. People will perhaps object that the ideas set forth here present a serious obstacle to scientific research and work. Nevertheless, the limits We have outlined are not by definition an obstacle to progress. The field of medicine cannot be different in this respect from other fields of man’s research, investigations and work. The great moral demands force the impetuous flow of human thought and will to flow, like water from the mountains, into certain channels. They contain the flow to increase its efficiency and usefulness. They dam it so that it does not overflow and cause ravages that can never be compensated for by the special good it seeks. In appearance, moral demands are a brake. In fact, they contribute to the best and most beautiful of what man has produced for science, the individual and the community.

40. May Almighty God in His benevolent Providence give you His blessing and grace to this end.