Vatican City (AsiaNews) - To help concretely the families of incurably and terminally ill persons, as is already done when a child is born. Social support, in addition to spiritual support, for those who care for the dying person, in addition to the person facing the end of life, represents for Benedict XVI a manifestation of that respect for human life which should characterise a "united and humanitarian" society. The same respect also prompts the rejection of moves towards euthanasia, which become "pressing, above all when a utilitarian vision about the person is insinuated", and serves to identify the criteria of "proportionality" for life-saving medical interventions.
This is an analysis of various aspects - spiritual, social, and also legal - of the sick person facing the end of life, found in the discourse that Benedict XVI addressed today to the participants at the congress "Accompanying interminably ill and dying persons: ethical and practical guideline", held by the Pontifical Academy for Life. The Pope first of all emphasised that "earthly experience ends with death, but it is also through death that full and definitive life, beyond time, is opened for each one of us. The Lord of life is present beside the sick person as He who lives and gives life".
But, beyond the Christian community, "all of society, through its medical and civil institutions, is called to respect life and the dignity of the gravely ill and dying person". Respect for human life concretely involves "ensuring for each person who needs it the support necessary through adequate medical therapies and interventions, identified and administered according to the criteria of medical proportionality, always keeping in mind the moral duty of administering (on the part of the doctor) and accepting (on the part of the patient) those means for the preservation of life which, in the concrete situation, are shown to be 'ordinary'. But as for significantly risky therapies, or those that might be prudently seen as 'extraordinary', the recourse to these is to be considered morally licit, but optional".
"Moreover, it is always necessary to assure each person the necessary and obligatory care, in addition to support for the families most harshly tested by the illness of one of their members, especially when this is grave and prolonged. And in the area of workplace regulations, as ordinarily specific rights are recognised for families at the moment of a birth, analogously, and especially in certain circumstances, similar rights should be recognised for people who are overwhelmed at the time of the terminal illness of one of their relatives. A united and humanitarian society cannot help but keep in mind the difficult conditions of families that, sometimes for long periods, must bear the burden of carrying out household tasks for gravely ill persons who are not self-sufficient".
More and more frequently, especially in the big cities, "there are elderly persons who are alone, even at the time of grave illness and when near death. In such situations, the pressure of euthanasia becomes strong, above all when a utilitarian vision of the person is insinuated. In this regard", the pope warned, "I take this opportunity to repeat once again the firm and constant ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia, according to the centuries-old teaching of the Church".
"The combined efforts of civil society and the community of believers", Benedict XVI concluded, "must be aimed at making it possible for all not only to live in a dignified and responsible manner, but also to pass through the moment of trial and death in the best conditions of fraternity and solidarity, even where death occurs in a poor family or in a hospital bed".