Pope Benedict XVI called on science to respect life and dignity on Sunday as he blessed the first stone of a new disabled children's residence in Spain, alluding to the selection of embryos to eliminate deformities.
Remarkable advances in medicine had improved care for those most in need, said the 83-year-old pontiff, dressed in a white cassock, on the last day of a weekend visit to Spain where he sought to halt a perceived slide away from the Church.
Dedicated and humane treatment was crucial to healing, said Benedict, who met with children of the centre before attending a ceremony inside, seated on a red throne previously used by the royals. Outside, thousands of people gathered including youngsters shouting "Viva el Papa! (long live the pope)".
"Therefore, it is indispensable that new technological developments in the field of medicine never be to the detriment of respect for human life and dignity, so that those who suffer physical illnesses or handicaps can always receive that love and attention required to make them feel valued as persons in their concrete needs," he said.
The pontiff sprinkled holy water on the first stone of a new residence that will carry his name, part of a centre run by the Roman Catholic Church's Nino Dios foundation for children with Down's Syndrome and other mental disabilities.
The press director for the Spanish Bishops' Conference, Isidro Catela, said in the week before the pope's arrival that the number of children with Down's Syndrome had declined.
"We know that the number of these people has declined mostly because a good number of them are eliminated before they are born," he said.
The pope's visit was in defence of life, Catela said. "He will extend his hand in this way to the defence of life, the life of everybody, whether or not they have greater or less intellectual capacity."
In December 2008, the Vatican issued a document affirming the "dignity of the human embryo."
The sweeping instruction listed biomedical techniques considered "illicit" by the Roman Catholic Church such as in vitro fertilisation, cloning, the therapeutic use of stem cells, producing vaccines from embryo cells and the use of the "morning-after" contraceptive pill.
Such practices go against the "fundamental principle" that the dignity of the person must be recognised from conception until natural death, it said.