The publication of a document by Pope Francis on the environment on Thursday has created a media storm. Laudato Si’ (Be praised, in Italian) is an encyclical, the most authoritative form of Vatican instruction, and is addressed not just to Catholics but to “every person living on this planet”.
Francis hopes that it will influence a Paris summit on climate change at the end of the year. Given his immense popularity and moral prestige, some pundits believe that his contribution could be a game-changer.
In a sense, Laudato Si’ is also an extended meditation on bioethics. Ever since the birth of the discipline in the 1960s, there has been a tension between freedom bioethics with a focus on autonomy and the limits of human intervention on the body and global bioethics, which integrates human activity into ecology. Francis clearly favours the latter approach. The phrase “Everything is connected” is a constant refrain in the document.
So from his perspective, opposition to embryonic stem cell research and opposition to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest are related; preservation of the natural order is paramount. “The natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour,” he writes. “The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.”
Unsurprisingly, then, he rejects the view that man is defined by dominating and transforming nature. There is a natural order in the environment and in human life which must be respected.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.