ROME — Pope Francis on Thursday reiterated Catholicism’s commitment to defending human life “from conception to natural death,” a phrase usually invoked by Catholic activists to refer to the Church’s opposition to contraception and abortion as well as euthanasia.

At the same time, Francis urged experts in bioethics to blend a robust defense of human life with concern for the natural environment, in order to keep creation safe for future generations.

Francis said that even though the Church doesn’t claim to have a special voice in the field of bioethics, it supports the “search for truth and goodness on complex human and ethical issues.”

Francis also condemned what he called a “culture of waste” in the medical field, which he said, leads to treating human embryos, the sick, and the elderly as disposable material.

Speaking to the members of an Italian Committee for Bioethics, Francis underlined that biotechnological applications can never be used to harm human dignity and must never be guided solely by industrial and commercial ends.

Bioethics, he said, should be used to serve “every man and woman,” giving particular attention “to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, who are struggling to make their voices heard.”

On this level, he said, the Church and civil society are called to cooperate, “in accordance with their distinct skills.”

Francis praised the committee for “having repeatedly dealt with the respect for the integrity of the human being and the protection of health from conception to natural death, considering the person in his [or her] singularity, always as an end and never simply as a means.”

The field of bioethics has long generated controversy since it studies many of the front lines in today’s wars of culture, including surrogacy, cloning, gene therapy, life extension, assisted suicide, and human genetic engineering.

But recent bioethical research has also produced new medicines and therapies, and Francis noted on Thursday that “reaching a harmonious conclusion is not always easy, requiring humility and realism.”

For this reason, the pontiff encouraged the committee to work to overcome difficulties and engage in an international dialogue that helps achieve a harmonization of biological and medical standards and rules that recognize core values and fundamental human rights.

Francis also told the bioethicists that they could use their field to conduct an interdisciplinary analysis of the causes behind environmental degradation, saying he hoped they’d come up with a set of guidelines that would help protect future generations.

These guidelines, he told them, should “stimulate action, conservation, preservation, and care of the environment,” searching for ways that recognize the centrality of man while still respecting other living beings.

Faithful to his style, Francis also told the committee to pay attention to the disabled and the marginalization of vulnerable groups, which he said are left aside by today’s competitive and progress-oriented society.