Pope Affirms Dignity of Human Being Until Sickness and Old Age

«Medicine Is Always at the Service of Life»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Sickness and old age do not affect the dignity of the human being, and «medicine always places itself at the service of life,» said John Paul II on Friday.

«Even when it knows it cannot defeat a serious pathology, it dedicates its own capabilities to alleviating suffering,» he said addressing more than 600 participants of a Vatican conference on palliative care.

«To work with passion to help the patient in every situation means to be aware of the inalienable dignity of every human being, even those in the extreme conditions of a terminal state,» the Holy Father said to the participants who included health personnel, pastoral agents, bioethicists and theologians.

«Suffering, old age, the unconscious state, the imminence of death do not lessen the person’s intrinsic dignity, created in the image of God,» he continued.

«Among the tragedies caused by an ethic that presumes to establish who can live and who can die, is that of euthanasia,» he noted.

«Even if it is moved by sentiments of a misunderstood compassion or a misunderstood dignity that must be preserved, euthanasia instead of rescuing a person from suffering, eliminates the person,» he clarified.

«[T]rue compassion, on the contrary, promotes every reasonable effort to favor the patient’s healing.» At the same time, it helps one to cease intervention when it «is no longer useful to achieve that end,» he said.

«Rejection of aggressive therapy is not a rejection of the patient and of his life,» the Pope asserted.

«[T]he eventual decision to not undertake or to interrupt therapy will be considered ethically correct when such therapy is ineffective or clearly disproportionate to the ends of supporting life or recovering health. Refusal of intense therapy, thus, is an expression of the respect that is owed to the patient in every instance,» he stressed.

The Pope encouraged the appropriate use of palliative treatments, such as analgesics, as well as the formation at all levels of personnel in this respect.

Attacks on life are among the Pope’s greatest concerns, as also demonstrated in the message, published on Friday by the Vatican press office, which he sent to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, who are holding their national congress in Bari.

Recalling the ethical principles that are the foundation of the Hippocratic Oath, the papal message points out that «[t]here are no lives that are not worth living; there is no suffering, no matter how grave, that can justify killing a life; there are no reasons, no matter how noble, that make plausible the creation of human beings, destined to be used and destroyed.»

The conference, organized by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care, is being held in Rome from Nov. 11-13.

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