Pope Francis meets a cancer patient

Pope says euthanasia is reduction of person to thing, not freedom

Euthanasia may be appear to be freedom but in fact it is utilitarianism, the reduction of the sick person to a thing, the Pope told an Italian medical association Monday.

Driving the news

Francis made the remarks yesterday in an audience in the Vatican with cancer patients and members of the Italian Association of Medical Oncology (AIOM).

Go deeper

In his address, the Pope stressed that “in a world such as ours, often pushed to oppositions in every sphere of human coexistence, to create and foster relations is an essential commitment for building the common good”.

He called on doctors to develop relationships not only with research institutions but also with patients, and thereby become “an eloquent sign not only for the world of health but for the whole society, called to renew itself in a solidary and fraternal style”.

Francis also called healthcare providers beyond a “precision oncology”, or an indifferent treatment of sick cancer patients, to an “oncology of mercy”.

That is, to an extreme personalisation of therapy that goes beyond a one-size-fits-all response to embrace the sick person in all of his or her uniqueness.

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Why it matters

On the subject of so-called ‘death with dignity’, the Pope recalled that “technology isn’t at the service of man when it reduces him to a thing, when it distinguishes between who deserves to be cared for and who doesn’t, because he is considered only a burden, sometimes even discarded”.

“The practice of euthanasia, which has already become legal in several States, only seemingly proposes to encourage personal freedom”, Francis added.

In reality, the Pope continued, euthanasia “is based on a utilitarian vision of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view there is no hope of improvement or of avoiding pain”.

“If death is chosen, the problems are, in a certain sense, resolved; however, how much bitterness there is behind this reasoning, and what refusal of help the choice entails of giving up everything and severing every bond!”

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What’s next

As an alternative to euthanasia, Francis proposed a “commitment to accompany the sick person and his dear ones in all the phases of the course [of treatment], trying to alleviate the sufferings through palliation or offering a family environment in hospices”.

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Only that way can medicine contribute “to create a culture and practices that are more attentive to the value of every person”, he added.

But the Pope also recalled that the best medicine is always prevention, for which reason there is no substitute for a “healthy environment” and “respect for the human body and its laws”.

The prevention of illness depends “not only on the individual choices but also on the places where one lives that, especially in great centres, subject the body to continuous stress, given life’s rhythms and exposure to polluting agents”, the Pope said.

“This brings our attention to the care of the natural environment, our common home, which we must respect so that in turn it respects us”, he added.

“The protection of the environment and the fight against tumors then become two phases of the same problem, two complementary aspects of the same battle of civility and humanity”.

For the record

The Pope concluded his speech encouraging the sick “to find the strength not to interrupt the bonds of love, to offer their suffering for their fellow humans and to keep alive their friendship with God”.

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He also spurred healthcare professionals “to always look to the good of others, to offer themselves generously and to fight for a more solidary world”.

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