The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith publishes a document affirming the Church is also opposed to persistent therapeutic treatment, welcoming palliative care, and recommending support for the families of those who are suffering.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "To cure if possible, always to care". These words of John Paul II can be seen as the principle that animates the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Samaritanus bonus” on the care of people in the critical and terminal stages of life.
It is about "accompanying a suffering person in the terminal stages of life in this world, and to offer this assistance in a way that respects and promotes the intrinsic human dignity of persons who are ill, their vocation to holiness, and thus the highest worth of their existence ".
The document, made public today, reaffirms as the Church's "definitive teaching" that "euthanasia is a crime against human life", as is any collaboration with it, and reaffirms the right to conscientious objection. The Church is also opposed to persistent therapeutic treatment, welcomes the application of palliative care, and recommends support for the families of the suffering.
Nowadays, the document notes, there are some factors that limit the ability to grasp the value of life. The first is an equivocal use of the concept of "dignified death" in relation to that of "quality of life", with a utilitarian anthropological perspective. Life is considered "worthy" only in the presence of some psychic or physical characteristics. A second obstacle is a misunderstanding of "compassion". True human compassion "human compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick, in supporting them in their difficulties, in offering them affection, attention, and the means to alleviate the suffering" by offering him affection and means to alleviate his suffering. Another obstacle is growing individualism, the root of the "most latent disease of our time: loneliness".
Faced with all this, the Church " the Church is convinced of the necessity to reaffirm as definitive teaching that euthanasia is a crime against human life because, in this act, one chooses directly to cause the death of another innocent human being." Faced with cultural and political pressures that tend to affirm the right to die with dignity ", the document states that “to end the life of a sick person who requests euthanasia is by no means to acknowledge and respect their autonomy, but on the contrary to disavow the value of both their freedom, now under the sway of suffering and illness, andof their life by excluding any further possibility of human relationship, of sensing the meaning of their existence, or of growth in the theologal life. Moreover, it is to take the place of God in deciding the moment of death.”.
At the same time, it is emphasized that "physicians themselves report that abuses frequently occur when the lives of persons who would never have desired euthanasia are terminated. The request for death is in many cases itself a symptom of disease, aggravated by isolation and discomfort." “Values of life, autonomy, and decision-making ability are not on the same level as the quality of life as such. ". Moreover, it is an expression of that "culture of waste" denounced by Pope Francis for which the value of a person is linked to his economic efficiency, as well as physical. "The victims are the weakest human beings, who are likely to be “discarded” when the system aims for efficiency at all costs."
The Letter then notes that "the request for death is in many cases itself a symptom of disease, aggravated by isolation and despair", " the pleas of gravely ill people who sometimes ask for death are not to be understood as implying a true desire for euthanasia; in fact, it is almost always a case of an anguished plea for help and love. What a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love, the human and supernatural warmth with which sick persons can and ought to be surrounded by all those close to him or her, parents and children, doctors and nurses”. A sick person, surrounded by a loving human and Christian presence, can overcome all forms of depression and need not succumb to the anguish of loneliness and abandonment to suffering and death.”
Finally, it is not "lawful to suspend treatments that are required to maintain essential physiological functions, as long as the body can benefit from them (such as hydration, nutrition, thermoregulation, proportionate respiratory support, and the other types of assistance needed to maintain bodily homeostasis and manage systemic and organic pain). ". "The renunciation of treatments that would only provide a precarious and painful prolongation of life can also mean respect for the will of the dying person as expressed in advanced directives for treatment, excluding however every act of a euthanistic or suicidal nature ". "Every medical action must always have as its object—intended by the moral agent—the promotion of life and never the pursuit of death. The physician is never a mere executor of the will of patients or their legal representatives, but retains the right and obligation to withdraw at will from any course of action contrary to the moral good discerned by conscience ".
On the other hand, the opinion on palliative medicine is entirely positive. It “constitutes a precious and crucial instrument in the care of patients during the most painful, agonizing, chronic and terminal stages of illness. Palliative care is an authentic expression of the human and Christian activity of providing care, the tangible symbol of the compassionate “remaining” at the side of the suffering person. Its goal is “to alleviate suffering in the final stages of illness and at the same time to ensure the patient appropriate human accompaniment” improving quality of life and overall well-being as much as possible and in a dignified manner. Experience teaches us that the employment of palliative care reduces considerably the number of persons who request euthanasia."
Analgesic therapy using drugs that can cause suppression of consciousness (sedation) also falls within the scope of palliation. "A While a deep religious sense can make it possible for a patient to live with pain through the lens of redemption as a special offering to God, the Church nonetheless affirms the moral liceity of sedation as part of patient care in order to ensure that the end of life arrives with the greatest possible peace and in the best internal conditions. This holds also for treatments that hasten the moment of death (deep palliative sedation in the terminal stage), always, to the extent possible, with the patient’s informed consent."
In this regard, the document recalls that we are faced with a principle set out by Pius XII as early as 1957.
The document then recommends a specific formation of priests and addresses the question of administering the sacraments to a person who has asked to die. They will be able to receive the sacraments “Such a penitent can receive these sacraments only when the minister discerns his or her readiness to take concrete steps that indicate he or she has modified their decision in this regard. Thus a person who may be registered in an association to receive euthanasia or assisted suicide must manifest the intention of cancelling such a registration before receiving the sacraments."
“The greatest misery - reads the conclusions of the Letter - consists in the loss of hope in the face of death. This hope is proclaimed by the Christian witness, which, to be effective, must be lived in faith and encompass everyone—families, nurses, and physicians. It must engage the pastoral resources of the diocese and of Catholic healthcare centers, which are called to live with faith the duty to accompany the sick in all of the stages of illness, and in particular in the critical and terminal stages of life as defined in this letter.” (FP)