02/21/2008, 00.00
VATICAN
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Ethical principles for the care of terminally ill patients under study

An international congress will consider the topic of care for dying persons. The 'no' to euthanasia, and the right to refuse aggressive therapies.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Clarifying with the greatest precision possible the moral limits of therapy and of support for the terminally ill patient, who is at "an extremely fragile moment in life, often aggravated by loneliness, and even more frequently by suffering".  But in the Christian vision, this moment "is also valuable, because when the person's physical history comes to an end, it is then that the story begins that is illuminated by Christian hope, as the fullness of life that we call eternal".  This, in the words of Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the pontifical academy for life, is the objective of the international congress "Accompanying interminably ill and dying persons: ethical and practical guidelines", which will be held at the Vatican from February 25 -26.

Promoted on the occasion of the academy's 15th general assembly, the congress is intended to "define further the terms of licit and illicit therapeutic treatment", while on an international level there is seen "strong political and media pressure to move toward the principle of the patient's self-determination".  In this regard, Fr Maurizio Calipari, a moral theologian and a bioethics professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, maintains that "the new and increasing technological possibilities for medical intervention, in addition to ensuring  better chances for life and improved health conditions for many, can sometimes bring further personal suffering to the patient himself, without any real prospects for improving his condition".

This is, then, a concrete matter of facing the topics of euthanasia and aggressive medical treatment, in addition to those of caring for the patient and of the living will.  This latter topic is more political than medical in nature.  And if euthanasia is unacceptable from a moral point of view, in the current development of medicine the problem is that of the refusal of aggressive treatment, or intervention that is "disproportionate" to the attainment of particular objectives for preserving health and prolonging life.  In this situation, for Fr Calipari, refusing this treatment is the patient's right, and can sometimes be a duty.  This situation is completely different from that in which there is an attempt to cause death, and in fact the refusal of aggressive treatment is not a form of euthanasia.

At the congress a document will be presented that "is intended to represent an attempt to give a concrete answer to these questions, through the proposal of a new scheme of dynamic evaluation, in three phases, capable of assisting medical practice, on the part of both medical workers and the patient, to come to practical decisions that are sometimes difficult and controversial, but are always oriented to ensuring the overall well-being of the person who is suffering and in need of care".

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