Working together, for the benefit of mankind. The 25th Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life concludes

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Vatican City, 27 February 2019.- “We are not closed in ourselves, we are an outgoing Church, on a journey and in the great agora of contemporary debate” stated Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, concluding the 25th Assembly which had the theme "Roboethics. People, Machines and Healthcare”.

The Assembly was attended by 140 Academics and the public working session took place on Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, with 250 members and 14 speakers from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, to examine trends and problems presented by robots. Wednesday was reserved for the Academicians and conclusions were drawn on the work and the projects begun by five working groups over a year ago.

The five working groups addressed the themes of Global Bioethics, Gene Editing, Neurosciences, Palliative Care and finally specific activities for 14 young Academics.

As announced, the reflection on Global Bioethics will focus on migration and impact on healthcare, gender identity, the impact of convergent technologies on people and social inequalities. There are plans to host an autumn conference in the area of Gene Editing with the possibility of expressing a well-founded and motivated ecclesial position, in the face of experiments already underway in various parts of the world on the modification of embryos.  In the sphere of Neurosciences the Pontifical Academy for Life decided to study "cognitive empowerment" with an interdisciplinary reflection on the pharmacological, health, anthropological and ethical aspects. For Palliative Care, the working group of the Pontifical Academy presented the English version of the White Book containing recommendations for politicians (effective legislation that does not favor assisted suicide but palliative care); for universities for the training of medical and health personnel; for the professionals already at work in the field. The "White Book" will be presented in May at the World Congress on Palliative Care in Berlin. The young Academicians illustrated the initiatives in connection with the rest of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Concluding the proceedings of the private session Abp. Paglia  called on all actors in the field to “work together with us, for the benefit of mankind". “It will be our specific commitment to boost external communications" because "we must be out there, on the streets to meet the questions, the problems, the trends, the developments of society and of the men and women who are our traveling companions".

The next Assembly will take place at the end of February 2020 on Artificial Intelligence, a theme linked to Roboethics.

Vatican City, February 27, 2019


The following collaborated at this meeting: 8 students from the Faculty of Social Communication Sciences of the Pontifical Salesian University who edited the video streaming, the production of texts in Spanish, French, Romanian, Chinese and video clips with interviews; 5 students of Lumsa (different Faculties) for press outreach and video streaming; 6 students of Notre Dame University - Rome Global Project for texts in English and logistics.

More details: 

The Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) kicked off its 25th General Assembly on the topic of “Roboethics: Humans, Machines, and Health” with a series of opening remarks from PAV President Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, who introduced the need to discuss new questions posed by modern technology for the responsible stewardship of the dignity of human life and work. 

Pope Francis addressed the Assembly in a private audience, urging members towards a greater awareness of the impact of technology on ecology, society, and human relationships. While applauding scientific innovations as products of the human genius that can aid and improve human life, he warned “the technocratic system that is based on the criterion of efficiency says nothing to answer the deepest questions that man asks himself.” 

Talia, a biology and theology student at the University of Notre Dame, was “encouraged by the Holy Father’s words… that faith need not fear these challenging questions, since every question provides an invitation for deeper intellectual inquiry and spiritual reflection.” 

Monday’s afternoon session, featuring leading engineering experts, including Geminoid creator Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro (Japan), updated the Assembly on current robotic technologies. Important questions - the impact of robotics on the workforce, the distinction between the artificial and human, and the serviceable spheres in which robotics can ethically operate - fueled the discussion. 

In a shift toward socio-anthropological implications, Tuesday’s discussions recognized a dichotomy between robotic machines used to promote common welfare and humanoids built as efficient human replacements. While robots have the potential to address pressing anthropological problems, the conference recognized concerns of unemployment, loss of privacy, and increased isolation. Speakers emphasized the importance of maintaining the centrality of human well-being in future decisions. In particular, the PAV heard the limitations of robotic technology in promoting human happiness and debated the merits of robots as effective healthcare tools. 

Hannah, an intern of the Pontifical Academy for Life, reflected: “It is critical to understand the current state of robotic technology to prepare for its integration into society. In a world that overwhelmingly values efficiency, the dignity of each human person must be at the forefront of all decisions.”

February 26 and 27th