10/20/2008, 00.00
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Pope: doctors must always defend patient's dignity, even if he is incurable

Benedict XVI highlights the centrality of the mutual trust between patient and doctor, which makes any attempt at interference "suspect." The protection of patient self-determination, the risks of individualism, and the responsibility of "proposing treatment aimed at the true good of the sick person."

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The centrality of the "relationship of mutual trust" between doctor and patient makes "suspect" any attempt at interference in a relationship that must be maintained at every moment of the disease, from "the sharing of realistic objectives to be sought" to communication with the sick person, who should be helped to "keep hope alive"; and if it is undeniable that "respect" must be granted to the "self-determination of the patient," "the doctor's professional responsibility must lead him to propose treatment aimed at the true good of the patient."

The good of the person and respect for him, even in sickness, were at the center of the words that the pope addressed today to participants at the 110th national conference of the Italian Surgical Society. "The specific mission that defines your medical and surgical profession," the pope told them, "is constituted by the pursuit of three objectives: to heal the sick person, or at least seek to intervene in an effective manner in the development of the illness; to alleviate the painful symptoms that accompany it, especially when it is in an advanced stage; to take care of the sick person in all of his human expectations."

Benedict XVI expressly indicated the "necessity of humanizing medicine, developing those features of medical behavior that best respond to the dignity of the sick person being served." This also means that if "recovery can no longer be expected, much can still be done for the sick person: his sufferings can be alleviated, above all he can be accompanied in his journey, doing as much as possible for his quality of life. This is not something that should be underestimated, because each patient, he even the one who is incurable, is the bearer of unconditional value, a dignity to be respected, which constitutes the unavoidable foundation of any medical action. Respect for human dignity, in fact, demands unconditional respect for every individual human being, born or unborn, healthy or sick, in whatever condition he may be."

It is in this perspective that the relationship of trust between doctor and patient takes on "primary relevance." The pope highlighted some aspects of this, beginning with the definition of the "treatment plan: a plan that can lead to aggressive life-saving treatments, or to the decision to be satisfied with the ordinary means offered by medicine." And there is also the danger that "in the highly technological context of modern society," the patient may be "objectified to a certain extent. In fact, he finds himself dominated by rules and practices that are often completely extraneous to his manner of being." "It is, instead, very important not to exclude the existential context of the patient, especially his family, from the medical relationship. For this reason, a sense of responsibility toward the patient must be promoted among family members: this is an important element for avoiding the further alienation that the patient almost inevitably undergoes if he is subjected to highly technological medicine, but without sufficient human contact."

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