Pope Francis says abandonment is the gravest sickness of the elderly, and also the greatest injustice they can suffer.
The 78-year-old Pope expressed this today to participants of the 21st Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whose theme this year is: “Assistance to the Elderly and Palliative Care.” The academy’s 21st plenary assembly began today in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall and ends Saturday.
Palliative care, the Pope said, is “an expression of a proper human attitude to take care of one another, especially of those who suffer,” and gives testimony that “the human person is always precious, even if marked by old age and sickness.”
“The person is, in fact, regardless of the circumstance,” he said, “a good in itself and for others, and is loved by God.”
Therefore, he noted, “when his life becomes very fragile and the conclusion of his earthly existence approaches, we feel the responsibility to assist and support him in the best way.”
Pope Francis reminded the members of the Academy for Life that the biblical Commandment that calls for honoring parents reminds us, in a broad sense, of the honor we owe all elderly persons.
“Let us listen with a docile heart to the word of God, which comes to us from the Commandments, which – let us always remember – are not ties that imprison, but words of life,” he said.
“’To honor,’” Francis continued, “could be translated today as the duty to have extreme respect and to take care of one who, because of his physical or social condition, could be left to die or ‘made to die.’”
The whole of medicine, he added, has a special role within society as testimony of the honor due to the elderly person and to every human being.
“Evidence and efficiency cannot be the sole criteria governing the conduct of doctors nor the rules of health systems and economic profit,” the Pope said. “A State cannot think of earning with medicine.”
On the contrary, Francis underscored, there is no greater duty for a society, he noted, than that of protecting the human person.
While acknowledging their work these days explores new areas of application of palliative care, he reiterated what those with old age really need.
“Elderly people are in need, in the first place, of the care of the family – whose affection cannot be substituted not even by the most efficient structures and the most competent and charitable health workers.”
Palliative care, in alleviating suffering in the final phase of the illness and at the same time ensuring adequate human support to the patient–he stressed–provides important support, especially for the elderly who, because of their age, “always receive less attention from curative medicine and often remain abandoned.”
“Abandonment is the gravest ‘sickness’ of the elderly, and also the greatest injustice they can suffer: those who have helped us grow must not be abandoned when they are in need of our help.”
The Holy Father said he appreciates their scientific and cultural commitment to ensure that palliative care reaches all those in need of it and encourages professionals and students to specialize in this type of assistance, “which does not have less value because of the fact that it does ‘not save life.’”
He then exhorted all those who, in different ways, are committed in this field to practice this commitment, and to do so with a spirit of service, realizing that “all medical knowledge is a good that is never reached ‘against’ a person’s life and dignity.”
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