Pope Francis during his encounter with meets sick


Analysis: Caring for the Elderly

The Threat of Euthanasia

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This Sunday the Church in England and Wales celebrated the “Day for Life.” This year the annual event focused on the treatment of people at the end of their lives.

The topic of euthanasia is very relevant at the moment with a vote on the second reading of a bill allowing assisted suicide to take place in the House of Commons on September 11.

If the bill, promoted by Labour Party member of parliament Rob Marris, is approved it will allow those over 18 years of age with less than six months to live to receive help in committing suicide.

Part of the activities for Sunday’s event included the mailing out of over 300,000 postcards to parishioners in England and Wales offering guidance on end of life decisions.

The essential message for the day, the bishops explained is: “How do we cherish life while we can and accept death when it comes?”

The postcard, the bishops explained contains two main messages to guide decisions. focuses on the two thoughts which can help guide us all at the end of life:

A gift

The first is that every person is loved by God and that life is a precious gift that should not be destroyed or neglected. “It is wrong to hasten or bring about death. God will call us in his good time, and the time we have left for living and loving is always short.”

The second message is that we accept death. Therefore we are not obliged to engage in medical procedures when they will no longer be of benefit and indeed could even cause harm or impose unnecessary risks or burdens.

This means that “judgements are to be made about types of treatment, taking into account the benefits and burdens of the treatment as well as the person’s total medical condition and well-being,” explained Bishop John Sherrington, who is in charge of coordinating for the bishops the Day for Life.

The statement issued by the bishops recognized that there has been remarkable progress made in medical treatments that mean many chronically ill patients can continue to live. While we are grateful for such advances at the same time they mean that decisions about appropriate treatments are now more complex.

When faced with such decisions, that statement continued, ideally they should be made with the support of others, particularly family members. “The family, after all, should be the privileged place where mutual support and understanding occurs,” the bishops commented.

In such situations two questions can guide us, the bishops said: “is this decision loving life?” and “is this decision accepting the inevitability of death?”

The Holy See recently commented on this issue in an intervention made to a United Nations working group on aging. The Holy See “remains committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights and inherent dignity of the elderly, and to the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on age,” said the statement made to the July 16 session held in New York.

Virus of death

By 2050 the number of people aged above 60 will double from 10 to 20%, which means it is important the statement explained to ensure the elderly are not only accepted but are also integrated into society.

Not only is it important to ensure respect for the human rights of the elderly, but there also needs to be policies and programs that address the causes of any violations of these rights. The elderly should not be seen from a merely utilitarian perspective, the statement concluded.

A sentiment shared by Pope Francis, who earlier this year, in the March 4 General Audience, said that: “In a civilization in which there is no room for the elderly or where they are thrown away because they create problems, this society carries with it the virus of death.”

Discarding the elderly as if they are only a burden is not only brutal but also a sin, the Pope warned. The Church cannot accept a mentality of impatience, indifference or contempt. Instead it should promote an attitude of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality.

“Where there is no honour for elders, there is no future for the young,” Pope Francis concluded.

Then, on May 5, Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who met in Rome for tteir General Assembly, which had as its theme: “Assisting the elderly and palliative care.”

Palliative care means support for the elderly in the last stages if illness, he explained. “Palliative care recognises something equally important: recognizing the value of the person,” the Pope commented.

Ensuring adequate care for the elderly and the terminally ill, instead of promoting the recourse to suicide, will continue to be a big challenge in the years to come.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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