Few months after his election, the Pope, Benedict XVI, is already taking part in Italian politics. The occasion to do so is given by the Italian Referendum on the 'legge 40,' which sets up a legal regime of embryos.
Ratzinger's longstanding reputation of being a rigid thinker is amply confirmed. His obsession with the idea of life at any cost from the embryonic stage leads to huge practical and theoretical problems.
The first practical problem is his defense of a very bad statute (legge 40). The very majority that enacted it is now going to referendum with opposite intention: some of them are voting for the abrogation, some of them for its up-keeping, others are planning not to vote. The pope himself is in favour of abstension. Not for principled reasons, but because it is the only way of maintaining the statute in place.
A second problem that makes the pope's position inconsistent is that of constitutional tragedies at the edge of life. Take, for example, Jodie and Mary's case, that of conjoined twin from birth. The only way of saving Jody was to kill Mary, since Mary did not have organs developed enough to survive on her own, as a consequence she had a 'parasitic' existence upon the body of her sister. Catholic orthodoxy would have commanded to keep them united and dead. One of the competing suggestion was to save the stronger, and the only viable, child by killing the other. A sacrifice is there to be made. But why would it be worse than letting them both die?
A third problem concerns more specifically the inconsistency of catholic orthodoxy and the status of embryos (This point is raised by Emanuele Severino, one of the most important italian philosophers). The church believe in a doctrine of "unitary entities." Life comes from an single entity that has a potential for life. As much as a statue comes from a block of stone that has a potential to become a statue, so does human life. Now, the problem is that the embryo itself does not come from unitary entities, as by definition it comes from the union of the male and female gameths.
Given that the Church holds that life begins at the very moment of fecondation, the Pope is denying the very doctrine of unitary entities that is so central to Catholic dogma. In order to be consistent, the Pope should accept that life is created in two steps. First there is the appearance of the embryo, which is the unitary constitutive material of a potential life. Then, at a second stage, God injects a soul into the unitary entity, which is the embryo.
From this distinction, we can arrive at a similar point as St Thomas: embryos are just like animals at their very beginning; hence, there is a qualitative difference between them and actual human life.