Idea of "Quality of Life" Threatens Life Itself, Warns Bishop

Overemphasis on Money and Pleasure Seen as Dangerous

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 17, 2005 ( A mistaken idea of “quality of life,” based on financial well-being, the pursuit of pleasure, and ethical secularism, has obscured the sacred character of life, warns a Vatican official.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, addressed that topic at a press conference today when presenting the dicastery’s forthcoming general assembly. The topic of the Feb. 21-23 event is “Quality of Life and Health Ethics.”

Bishop Sgreccia said that the discussions will be focused on the 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” in which John Paul II warned about “the eclipse of the sense of God and of man” which “inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism.”

In this line of thinking, Bishop Sgreccia continued, quoting the Pope, “The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one’s own material well-being. The so-called quality of life is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions — interpersonal, spiritual and religious — of existence.”

Coupled with preferences that interpret “quality of life” through “medical and health parameters” or in the “socioeconomic” or “ecological sense,” a “very different meaning has emerged progressively, of a clearly reductive character, because it refers primarily to the physical well-being of the person, understood in a selective sense,” explained Bishop Sgreccia.

“In virtue of the same, it is affirmed that wherever there is no acceptable quality of life, life itself loses value and is not worth living,” he continued.

Consequently, “from this perspective, the term ‘quality of life’ takes on a character of opposition to the ‘sacredness of life.’ In a word, the quality is made absolute, and the sacredness is relativized. What is more, a negative meaning is attributed to the concept of sacredness,” the Vatican official said.

A similar phenomenon has emerged with the term “health,” he said.

“Since the World Health Organization defined health as ‘complete well-being of physical, psychic and social nature,’ this value has become utopian and mythical, leading to a hedonist concept of well-being and, at times, with even lethal meanings,” lamented the bishop.

“Suffice it to think of the fact that, for reasons of women’s health, abortion has been legalized and so-called reproductive health programs have been implemented,” he said. “In addition to abortion, sterilization campaigns are proposed, as are those to spread emergency contraception, etc.”

“How has this happened?” asked the bishop. He gave an answer that included three elements.

The first factor, “of a philosophical nature,” is the emergence of the “utilitarian and hedonist philosophy,” which reduces good “to the pursuit of pleasure and the defeat of pain,” he said.

The second factor is cultural: "ethical secularism and indifference. If there is no beyond, if a blessed eternity does not exist, pain makes no sense, and what counts is earthly well-being,” he added.

Finally, there is the socioeconomic factor. The “end of global politics” consists in “the genuine or presumed availability of economic and social well-being,” the prelate said.

According to Bishop Sgreccia, the Academy for Life hopes to analyze this “perverse combination” of factors to “propose a corrective view and a different horizon of hope.”

This proposal is particularly necessary, he said, “given the data of uneasiness and unhappiness that are evident in the so-called illnesses of well-being, the anti-economic drop in the birthrate in the West, and the misery of the Third World.”

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