Formation Seen as Key in Palliative Care

Conclusion of International Health-Care Conference

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 17, 2004 ( Those who work in the area of palliative care need “appropriate, Christian, personalized and scientific” formation, concluded specialists from more than 70 countries meeting in the Vatican.

Given the “ever-more anguished questions” that the development of science poses on “the terminal stage of man’s life,” and the spread of euthanasia and aggressive therapy, the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers held its 19th international conference Nov. 11-13 to address the topic of palliative care.

The meeting attracted more than 600 people, including world experts in three distinct areas: palliative care, the illumination of this care with the Gospel and with interreligious dialogue, and the practice to be followed.

To receive “genuine illumination on these very great problems of present-day humanity,” the participants also met with the Pope last Friday, noted the president of the pontifical council, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

John Paul II reminded them that sickness and old age in no way affect the dignity of the human person, and that medicine must always be at man’s service.

“Instead of rescuing a person from suffering,” euthanasia “eliminates him,” the Pope said. “True compassion promotes all reasonable efforts in favor of the patient’s cure” and helps one to cease such efforts “when all interventions are no longer useful to achieve that end.”

The Holy Father noted: “Rejection of aggressive therapy is not a rejection of the patient and his life.”

“The eventual decision not to undertake or to interrupt a therapy,” he added, “is considered ethically correct when it turns out to be ineffective or clearly disproportionate in respect of the objectives to sustain life or recover health.”

Following John Paul II’s thought in his 1984 apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris,” the international meeting reflected on the mystery of suffering and the mystery of Trinitarian and paschal solidarity. The address provided the framework for the entire conference.

The study of the present situation included the range of palliative care “as seen by the World Health Organization, as it appears in television series and in films, and as a result of research to this effect,” Cardinal Lozano Barragán explained last Saturday in a statement on the meeting’s content.

Pain was studied from the scientific point of view and palliative care was addressed from all angles as practiced today.

As a result, “we have confirmed how the initial author of [palliative] care is the Catholic Church,” the cardinal explained.

“The light to understand it comes from the death and resurrection of the Lord, who makes himself present in the sacraments of the sick — penance, anointing and the Eucharist. These realities surmount the present secularized environment and are a real remedy against euthanasia,” he continued.

At this point, the conference engaged in dialogue with the main non-Christian religions.

“In the Jewish tradition, prayer was highlighted as the remedy for suffering; in the Islamic, the creation of the person’s harmony; in the Hindu, the presence of the family; and in the Buddhist, serenity,” Cardinal Lozano Barragán said.

A philosophical analysis showed, however, that the current of postmodernity “necessarily leads to euthanasia,” the cardinal said.

According to the conference, among the actions to be undertaken is the “appropriate, Christian, personalized and scientific” formation of professional agents engaged in palliative care.

Such formation must also be imparted “to priests, for a personal contact and across-the-board sensitization to all individuals included in such care, emphasizing the sacraments,” the cardinal explained.

Likewise, volunteers must be trained in “mercy,” and doctors must be formed scientifically and in “Christian ethics,” he said.

Similarly, nurses must improve their competence, and men and women religious must update their hospital charism, the Vatican official said.

Families must support their terminally ill dear ones; psychologists must help to discover the complex identity of the terminally ill, and social workers must actively mediate between the patient and his family, the cardinal continued.

The conference revealed clearly the need “to renew the divine-human support of the terminally ill through the sacraments,” he said.

Moreover, assistance to the terminally ill must be well thought out, impulses to death must be transformed into impulses of life, the consumer society’s negation of death must be overcome by “solid hope in the resurrection,” and finally, those attending the terminally ill must identify with them with “an open heart,” Cardinal Lozano Barragán said.

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