John Paul II's Prescription for "Genuine" Medicine

Message to a Catholic Doctors Association

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 16, 2004 ( John Paul II says that doctors who are aware of the very nature of man and the inviolable dignity of the person can be real «promoters of civilization.»

The Pope expressed this in a message to Domenico Di Virgilio, president of the Italian Catholic Doctors’ Association, on the occasion of the group’s national congress, held Oct. 11-13 in Bari.

The theme of the congress was «Medicine and Human Dignity: Doctors, Promoters of Health and Instruments of Salvation.»

«Medicine genuinely understood,» which cannot «give in to discriminations, […] speaks the universal language of sharing, of listening to all men without distinction, and of accepting all to relieve the suffering of each one,» the Holy Father stated in his letter.

To realize this, medicine «cannot do without an attentive reflection on the very nature of man, created by God in his image and likeness,» the Pope wrote.

«The dignity of man finds its foundation not only in the mystery of creation, but also in the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ,» he added.

«If the origin of man is in itself the foundation of his dignity, so is his end: Man is called to be a ‘son in the Son’ and a living temple of the Spirit, in the perspective of eternal life of beatifying communion with God,» John Paul II wrote.

«Man is the center and culmination of everything that exists on earth. No other visible being possesses his same dignity,» and as «a conscious and free subject he can never be reduced to a simple instrument,» he continued.

Thus, «the inviolable dignity of the person must be affirmed with force and consistency today more than ever,» the Pope added. «One cannot speak of human beings who are no longer persons or who have yet to become persons. Personal dignity belongs radically to each human being and no disparity is acceptable or justifiable.»

Reminding doctors of the ethical principles whose roots are in the Hippocratic oath itself, the Pope emphasized that «there are no lives that are not worthy of being lived,» or sufferings «that can justify the suppression of a life,» or reasons «that make plausible the ‘creation’ of human beings destined to be used and destroyed.»

«May you always be inspired in your options by the conviction that life must be promoted and defended from its conception to its natural end,» he exhorted. «What will make you be recognized as Catholic doctors will be, precisely, the defense of the inviolable dignity of every human person.»

John Paul II also said to the doctors that, in protecting and promoting health, they must never neglect «the spiritual dimension of man.»

«If, in seeking to cure and relieve suffering you keep very present the meaning of life and death and the function of pain in the human vicissitude, you will succeed in being genuine promoters of civilization,» the Pope said.

The Holy Father cautioned the doctors about the existence in society of «an arrogant mentality which presumes to discriminate between life and life, forgetting that the sole truly human response in face of the other’s suffering is love that lavishes itself in support and sharing.»

The Pope warned about the risk that scientific progress in medicine might be «subjected to the desire to overwhelm and dominate,» losing its original vocation oriented to man’s good.

In this context, «the Christian view of service to a suffering neighbor cannot but be useful to the correct exercise of a profession of fundamental social relevance» and to «biomedical research,» he said.

«Be proud of the Christian identity that has characterized you in these 60 years of service to the sick and the promotion of life,» the Pope said. «Be able to recognize Christ himself in every sick person. … Vivify your service with constant prayer to God,» from whom ultimately healing comes.

Finally, the Pope exhorted that «heart» be added to the «irreplaceable contribution» of the exercise of medicine, as the heart is «capable of humanizing structures.»

Founded in 1944, the Italian Catholic Doctors’ Association aims to facilitate the moral, scientific and professional formation of doctors, to promote medical-moral studies in faithful respect of the Church’s magisterium, and to sustain charitable, evangelizing and collaborative activities with other voluntary and aid associations.

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