In memory of Fr. Albert Moraczewski who died peacefully on May 1, 2008.

Bioethics is a tough road to go. It’s controversial. It has unfortunately become politically contentious. And the main issues at stake remain largely ignored or misunderstood by the general public. These facts can cause me to lose sleep at night. And I wonder, how is it that such important issues, aren’t at the top of the list for more people’s attention, concern, support, and volunteerism?

Especially given the fact that this past week, the #2 man at the Vatican, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti had this to say about bioethics when asked what he believed were the key challenges facing us today. Girotti replied, “The greatest danger zone for the modern soul [is] the largely uncharted world of bioethics. (Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control.”

Of course we at CBC agree with his pronouncement of the greatest danger zone and his denouncement of certain violations of fundamental human rights. The CBC’s mission, vision and activities support this and we work to protect the fundamental human rights for all and call for technological progress which upholds the dignity and value of all human life and protects the world in which we live.

But while many have yet to wake up to these key challenges facing the human race, there have always been those who have faithfully responded to their life’s call to bioethics. Whether in season or out, these people have stood firm and have mightily contributed to the great field of bioethics. And this is why we annually recognize the exemplary achievements and accomplishments of those who have fought the good fight and left others who follow a great legacy to learn from and to build upon. What delight we have in our annual Paul Ramsey Award — which this year we are happy to award to Fr. Albert Moraczewski.

Reflections on Father Albert Moraczewski

Recently I spoke with William May, recipient of the 2007 Paul Ramsey award. Dr. May recalls meeting Fr. Albert in the late 1970s when he was giving a talk at a Bishops’ Conference and remembers him as a great organizer of workshops. He was the inspiration behind the workshops, getting great people to come and write good papers. These papers of course were later incorporated into books which Fr. Albert edited. “In addition, Fr. Albert was the founding president of what was originally called the Pope John XXIII Biomedical and Behavioral Research and Education in the middle 1970s. This later became the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). Fr. Albert’s great vision and leadership guided the center for two decades. He is truly an outstanding figure in bioethics.”

Father Germain Kopaczynski a former colleague at the NCBC said, “Fr Albert epitomized Newman’s definition of a Christian gentleman as one who never knowingly inflicted pain.”

Dr. John Haas, President of the NCBC says, “Father Albert embodies the Catholic commitment to faith and reason, religion and science. The Catholic tradition has never seen these as incompatible and Father Albert has lived out that conviction as a man of science, as a theologian and as a priest.” “Even though Father Albert was a theologian and a scientist he always showed pastoral solicitude and concern for his colleagues.”

“When we at the Center worked on difficult consultations, Father Albert would always insist that we first get the scientific facts straight.” “Father Albert’s fidelity to the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Catholic Church does not mean that he is not a creative, innovative thinker always willing to approach problems from a different perspective or push the received tradition to the limits of its possibilities in finding solutions to tough moral questions.”

Quotes by Father Albert

“Catholic bioethics, then, combines reason and faith; it is reason enlightened by faith at work on ethical issues in the field of medical practice and research. It uses all the resources available to reason but employs them under the direction of the light of faith.”

~ Fr. Albert Moraczewski, “Is There a Catholic Bioethics?” Ethics & Medics 19.2 (February 1994).

“But always it is the dignity and sacredness of the human person which is at stake. All actions done to man, by man, must keep foremost in mind that each human person is called to eternal happiness and that interventions in each person’s life should assist his progress towards that divine goal.”

~ Fr. Albert Moraczewski, “The Divine Image: The Foundation of Human Dignity” Ethics & Medics 20.1 (January 1995)

“Once the human embryo has become externalized by such a procedure as in vitro fertilization, it becomes potentially subject to all sorts of insults to its dignity and life. Even if the motivation be noble–the management of infertility, for example, or the deeper understanding of human physiology and development–such motives do not provide a warrant for violating the dignity and rights of the human child at its earliest stages of development.”

~ Fr. Albert Moraczewski, “On Human Cloning,” Ethics & Medics 19.6 (June 1994)

“From the moment of conception to death, each stage of human development is open to biomedical intervention. From in vitro fertilization and embryo transplantation through prenatal diagnosis, to the terminal stages of life, the inherent dignity of the human person is vulnerable to insult. Paramount to preserving a balance between biomedical intervention and human values is an adequate ethical analysis. The discipline of bioethics is an all-important instrument for that task…A Christian bioethics…implies growth in Christ, an ever-increasing assimilation to Jesus our perfect model of the human…ioethics is in the service of life. In particular, it in concerned with preserving values which make human life distinctive and worthwhile.”

~ Fr. Albert Moraczewski, “Bioethics and All God’s Children,” Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities 1979.