Vatican Convokes Experts on Palliative Care

International Conference of Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2004 ( The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers will dedicate an upcoming conference to the study of palliative care and receiving «the indications of the Holy Father on this burning question.»

The Nov. 11-13 international conference will begin by investigating «the Christian meaning of pain» and the purpose of palliative care, with a theological-pastoral lecture on «Salvifici Doloris» by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the dicastery.

Among the addresses there will be a description of the world situation of palliative care, by Dr. Cecilia Sepulveda, coordinator of the Cancer Control Program of the World Health Organization.

Cardinal Lozano Barragán said that the conference will look into the question of «what palliative care is and what it is in practical terms in today’s world.» It will also focus on the juridical aspect of palliative care, and the phenomenon of euthanasia.

A second part of the conference will try to «illuminate the realities that we have discovered about palliative care,» the cardinal said.

«The first illumination will be sought by us with reference to the history of such care in the Catholic Church,» he said. «Then, beginning with the central fact of Christianity, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, we will ask what the Christian orientation should be in relation to such care.»

Given that the «presence of the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord is made contemporary today through the sacraments, … we want to study this presence through the sacrament of the anointing of the sick,» while considering «the impact of secularization on the final stage of life,» the cardinal continued.

This phase of the conference will include reflection on aggressive therapeutic care and the proportionality of palliative care, with the participation of Richard Horton, director of The Lancet medical journal.

It will be followed by an interreligious dialogue on palliative care in the great traditions outside Christianity — Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and postmodernity, with addresses by, among others, Abramo Alberto Piattelli, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Rome and professor at the Lateran University; Oeha-El-Rakhavi, professor of psychiatry and doctor of the University of Cairo Hospital; and Masahiro Tanaka, a physician and Buddhist priest in Japan.

The third part of the conference «will ask what should be done» in the field of palliative care, Cardinal Lozano Barragán said. It will begin by addressing «the renewal of the sacraments for the sick: viaticum, the anointing of the sick, and reconciliation,» he said.

He said that the discussions will cover «the direction of contemporary medical inquiry and research; the role of the psychological sciences in palliative care; a new cultural approach to the end of life; the training of palliative care workers; the end-of-life [issue] in the mass media; the approach of medical doctors, priests, nurses, religious, the patient’s family relatives, psychologists and social workers, and finally volunteers in palliative care.»

Other scheduled speakers include Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The official presentation of this 19th international conference will take place next Tuesday in the Vatican press office.

Publication of the minutes of the conference in Spanish, English, French and Italian is planned for this coming May.


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