Our journey through the universe of pro-life associations and institutions continues. All of them are, in some way, indebted to St. John Paul II's Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae", whose 20th anniversary will be celebrated on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 24th, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome. Today, we offer the interview with Dr. Justo Aznar, Director of the Institute of Life Sciences of the Catholic University of Valencia, who tells us about the present relationship between the global scientific community and the principles contained in the Encyclical, proposing ways for increasing their convergence in the future.
1) Dr. Aznar, in your view, how were the teachings of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae received by the international scientific community? What is the situation today?
I believe that the acceptance of the contents of Chapter IV, and in general that of the whole Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, has been very limited in the scientific world, since it is clear that in this milieu the values of utilitarian ethics are predominant. Now, these ethics, which tend to dissociate the biological nature of the human person from his/her intrinsic dignity, differ greatly from the ontological principles of the Encyclical. It is enough to recall how the scientific world deals with issues such as abortion, the regulation of human fertility, assisted procreation, emergency contraception, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, the use of embryonic stem cells for biomedical research, human cloning, the new techniques of mitochondrial transfer, euthanasia of adults and infants, assisted suicide, and much more. In all this, the attitude of researchers, scientific institutions and magazines is very far from the proposals in Evangelium Vitae.
2) Which parts of the Encyclical, in your view, should most urgently be brought to society's awareness?
The promotion of the defense of human life, in all that relates to its scientific, anthropological, philosophical and theological foundations. I believe that, in addition to the on-going concrete actions to protect motherhood and the dignity of human life, its beginning as well as its end, we should promote a major cultural and scientific campaign to incorporate the fundamental arguments in favor of life into the dominant culture. We should also try to enter and be present in the main international forum of thought in order to promote actions that favor to human life there. In my opinion, it is essential to try to change the anti-life trend that now prevails in society. To do this, I think that the Catholic thought must not stay closed in on itself but rather be open to intercultural dialogue. We must go to the peripheries of thought.
3) What is the distinctive contribution that your university offers to the defense and promotion of life?
Aside from the generalized defense of human life, which covers almost all the subjects taught by the professors of the Catholic University, I think that there are two particular things worth noting: the work of the Institute of Life Sciences, a research and teaching entity our university, and the program "Capacitas", aimed at promoting a culture favorable to the world of disabled people, from both a theoretical and practical viewpoint.
With regard to the Institute of Life Sciences, many activities have developed, but certainly the most important are: the Master's program in Bioethics, now in its ninth year, which has been gone through by over 300 professionals from various fields of knowledge; the extension of this program in Cuba, for seven years now, where it has already trained over 400 people, and where, after fifty years—this was emphasized among others by an important ecclesiastical representative of the island—we have been the first in the circles of the Catholic Church to give official teaching certificates; the publication of two periodicals: "Bioethics Press" (previously "Provida Press") and "Bioethics News"—the former, published in Spanish, has more than 20,000 readers, and the latter, in English, has over 10,000 readers—, with a user base that also includes important institutions; a website containing updated information related to the defense of life and bioethics in general, which also includes a vast collection of documents on these issues; the presence in the media of computerized social communications, especially on Facebook and Twitter, with over 5000 active supporters for each of them; and, finally, constant research work that has been translated into more than 50 articles published in national and international reviews, as well as in several books.
4) Do you think that it is necessary to develop new languages, forms of communication and associations in the scientific world in order to get closer and better involved in the cultural life of scientists who are more distant from the Catholic position?
In a world dominated by communication, I believe it is essential to improve the techniques for spreading cultural life, concretely, and Catholic culture, in general. In this sense, it seems to me essential to promote a course of study in Public Communication within the Catholic educational institutions, also because, in my view, this subject is not sufficiently dealt with in the Church.
5) What is, for you personally, the most beautiful image linked to Saint John Paul II and his commitment to life? Which picture do you keep in your mind and in your heart?
Personally, the most beautiful image of St. John Paul II that both my wife and I like to contemplate in our hearts is when we had the opportunity, in a personal interview with him, to give him a picture of our ten children: he blessed that picture with affection, extending the beneficial effect to the 46 grandchildren we now have. On the other hand, on a more general level, I really appreciate all the doctrine St. John Paul II developed with respect to human sexuality, which, in my opinion, has deeply transformed moral theology on marriage. Yet, my greatest gratitude towards him has, so to speak, an institutional form: in fact, we owe to him the creation of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, of which the first European seat outside of Rome is ours, in Valencia.