Life Academy to Consider Death

Vatican Conference to Focus on Science and Ethics

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2008 ( An upcoming Vatican conference that will focus on the moment when “human fragility is felt most deeply” was presented by the pontifical academy sponsoring it.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, led a press conference today on the congress to be held Monday and Tuesday, and titled “Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects.”

Joining Bishop Sgreccia at the press conference were Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, and member of the U.S.-based foundation “Culture and Life”; Monsignor Maurizio Calipari, one of the academy’s moral theologians and a bioethics professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family; and Zbigniew Zylicz, the medical director of the England-based “Dove House Hospice.”

Bishop Sgreccia briefly summarized the goal of the conference, which will focus on the moment “in which human fragility is felt most deeply, a moment often intensified by solitude and suffering […] but one which is very important in the Christian vision because the physical body crumbles and the subject’s history comes to an end but they draw near the entrance to full life, eternal life.”

“This moment of passage is the assembly’s specific subject,” added the prelate. “We once again sense the need to further define the terms of what is and is not licit in the therapeutic sphere, above all in order to respond to the various doubts and continuing debate in the field of medical assistance.

“The program proposes many ethical themes with the expectation of clarifying with balance and precision, as best as possible, the limits of the therapy and assistance given to the terminally ill and dying. There will also be discussions of a cultural and anthropological nature. Above all, we will present the aspects concerning assistance: how society and the Christian community can be mobilized, palliative care, but the main focus will be on treatments that respond to precise ethical questions.”

Monsignor Calipari turned his attention to new techniques in medical assistance. He said that they “can sometimes carry with them a greater affront than personal suffering to the patient without there being, or even contrary to there being, a real perspective of benefit.”

The priest explained that the congress will consider what should be done in these cases and what criteria should be adopted to be able to express an ethical and functional judgment on the use of means of prolonging life that is well-grounded and justifiable.

Regarding the choices surrounding medical care at the end of life, Monsignor Calipari also proposed the outline of “a new systematic standard of evaluation that would dynamically join the concepts of ‘proportionality/disproportionality’ — which is chronologically more recent — and ‘ordinariness/extraordinariness’ — more traditional — without depriving them of their differences and their characteristics.”

From this would derive, he continued, a norm that “could represent a precise reference for the concrete decisions on the choice for and recourse to the different means of prolonging life.”

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