CRITICAL bioethical issues are affecting the Philippines and Asia. The Philippines remains the battleground of the global population-control debate, a signal of how social and fertility engineering has remained resilient despite the overwhelming data showing that population control has no scientific, economic and philosophical validity.

For example, several bills in Congress seek to provide wider leeway for the state to impose birth control on the poor, limiting in fact the number of children they can have to two, even if the lawmakers who propose them have a history of generous fertility from legitimte and illegitimate dalliances, and even if they have the gumption to feed and maintain their families—again from legitimate and illegitimate dalliances—from state largesse whose purse and disbursement they control.

Elsewhere in Asia, states give condoms for free ostensibly to control the Aids menace but really to complement their sex tourism, as in Thailand, whose HIV cases now stand to half a million, belying the admiration of Filipino condom and contraceptive promoters who look up to it as a model on how to control Aids.

In China with its communist totalitarian hangover of the one-child policy, parents are raising spoiled brats who may yet cash in on the communist state’s prostitution with capitalism.

Confident South Korea said it is ready to commercialize stem-cell research, ignoring the ethical implications of a business decision seeking to make money out of a dubious scientific advancement.

If that weren’t enough, regional players are forging a union of sorts, as leading researchers representing Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Australia met earlier this year and proposed the Asia-Pacific Stem Cell Network to blow up local research to an unprecedented scale. In Singapore alone, the local government has reportedly earmarked $600 million for the development of the cutting-edge biotechnology. There’s no telling what a regional network will be able to do in the field, frowned upon by the Catholic Church which considers it an immoral manipulation of the early stages of life.

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In the country, talk on stem cell science is rare, but other bioethical issues ring as loudly, what with congressmen trying every now and then to have laws passed that would effectively lessen the restrictions on older if more prevalent medical practices that are themselves the subject of ethical debates—abortion and artificial birth control.

Against this backdrop, the Pontifical Academy for Life will hold the International Congress on Bioethics—the first Vatican meet in Asia—in the University’s Thomas Aquinas Research Complex on Dec. 5-7. Co-sponsored by the Office of Bioethics of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and UST, the event is themed, Celebrating the Gospel of Life: Basic Issues in Bioethics, and sends the message that the steady light of the Church continues to be a beacon even in the murkiest of surroundings.

Leading the international selection of speakers is the Vatican’s top bioethicist, Pontifical Academy for Life president Bishop Elio Sgreccia, who has spoken staunchly for the Church when confronted with specific issues, one of the more recent being the removal of American patient Terri Schiavo’s life support system, which Sgreccia condemned as “direct euthanasia” and “a cruel way of killing someone.”

Also speakers are Dr. John M. Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston and a consultant to the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., professor of bioethics and moral theology in Australia’s John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

The congress will expectedly more than touch on the issues on the latest in biotechnology which employs the inner cells of a growing blastocyst in an attempt to grow various organ cells for possible transplantation. Among Catholic bioethics’ basic principles is that life starts from the very moment of conception, when the parents’ DNA fuse to create an entirely different and potentially viable set.

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As regards artificial birth control and abortion, the Pontifical Academy has time and again denounced any means that would mess about the natural process of the conjugal act of the spouses, even artificial reproductive techniques. Proclaimed the Academy in its March 2004 General Assembly on Human Procreation and Reproductive Technologies, “this inalienable dignity of the person, which belongs to every human being from the first moment of his existence, requires that his origins be the direct consequence of suitable personal human action; only the married love of a man and a woman, expressed and realised in the conjugal act, with respect for the inseparable unity of its unitive and procreative meanings, is a worthy context for the coming forth of a new human life.”

That UST should be chosen as the venue is no surprise; as the premier Catholic university of the country and the Asian region, the University has time and again stood firm against the tides of scientific, medical, or legal adventurism unmindful of ethical and moral considerations. Of recent memory are the proposed house bills on reproductive health, HB 4110 and HB 3773, which on each occasion UST—both students and the administration—true to its reputation as the beacon of Catholic education here, vehemently opposed.

The December bioethics congress in this venerable pontifical institution will send waves crashing into our community of countries who are trying to grab hold of the continuously soaring and highly profitable field of stem cell research, upholding, as the Academy has said in affirmation of the late John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, “the Church’s right and duty to proclaim and to present publicly the principles of moral and social life that are inspired by the Gospel and Christianity’s 2000-year tradition.”

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