Religious leaders in Germany have spoken out against recent moves by parliamentarians to force a relaxation of laws on the genetic screening of embryos as part of in vitro fertilization.
The issue of PID is highly divisive within Germany
Germany's religious leaders have weighed into the controversial debate over pre-implantation diagnosis (PID), which allows doctors to screen embryo cells for genetic defects before they are implanted in the womb.
The process requires cells to be removed and examined for abnormalities a few days after in vitro fertilization. If genetic defects which would burden a child with a severe impediment are detected the embryo is simply abandoned, otherwise it is deemed suitable for implantation in the womb.
German Lutheran Bishop Johannes Friedrich spoke out against PID in his Christmas sermon, saying that "God knows us before we are born, and holds us in his hands right up until our last breath."
Zollitsch says PID would not make us happier
He said that, according to the church, life began with the fusion of seed and ovum, and that selection of those who lived and died was the domain of God, not mankind.
Friedrich said Christians could not accept the approval of PID, which "avowedly has selection as its aim."
The outcry comes less than a week after a cross-party group of parliamentarians called for a relaxation of Germany's strict laws on PID, and published a draft bill calling for amendments to current laws on 'test-tube' pregnancies, which was passed in 1991, before PID was available.
PID would make us 'less human'
Catholic Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who chairs the German Episcopal Conference, warned in his Christmas sermon of the danger of "breaching the dam" if PID was allowed under certain circumstances.
He reminded Catholics that life was a gift from God: "We are not masters of life and death, and also not over who may be born and who not. Our society would not become happier, but instead less human."
Zollitsch also said that allowing PID could lead to social pressure on individuals to turn their back on people with disabilities.
In July, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that PID was legal if it was intended to rule out the chance a test-tube baby could be born with a serious handicap.
PID is currently available in a handful of European countries, such as France. Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, is due to decide next year on whether the practice will be allowed under certain circumstances or completely forbidden. Supporters and opponents can be found in all of Germany's major parties.
Author: Darren Mara (dpa, KNA, AFP)
Editor: Ben Knight