updated 11/19/2005 10:34:28 PM ET 2005-11-20T03:34:28

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday urged participants at a conference on the ethics of new advances in genetic testing to help people struggling through “unexpected and delicate” decisions.

The Vatican’s health care office hosted a conference this week on “The Human Genome,” drawing together experts from 17 countries to discuss issues including the genetic aspects of fetal medicine and the ethics of medical counseling. The conference ended Saturday.

“Today’s scientific discoveries touch the lives of families, committing them to unexpected and delicate choices that must be faced responsibly,” Benedict said.

The pontiff noted that families can lack the scientific knowledge that would enable them make moral choices.

“The Church ... exhorts those responsible to study the appropriate methodology to bring help to people, to families and to society,” the pope added.

Benedict said politicians and legislators increasingly are called upon to express opinions about medical and scientific advances and their effects on society.

“If there is a lack of adequate knowledge, or in fact of an adequate training of consciences, false values and mistaken information could easily prevail in the direction taken by public opinion,” the pontiff said.

In June, Benedict backed an Italian voter boycott that doomed referendums to lift bans on egg-and-sperm donation, freezing of embryos and screening them for genetic defects and other widely used assisted fertility methods.

The German-born Benedict had depicted the referendums as a threat to life and family.

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