(Source: Novena/Vatican Press Office)

“To accompany, to hold the hand of someone who is dying, is something that every faithful must promote as they must promote a culture that opposes assisted suicide”, a Vatican archbishop has declared.

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According to Crux, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Vincenzo Paglia, made the remarks Tuesday to journalists at the presentation of a December 11-12 international symposium in Rome on ‘Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative Care and the Mental Health of the Elderly’.

The conference is jointly organised by the Pontifical Academy and the World Innovation Summit for Health, an initiative of the QATAR Foundation.

From the Church’s perspective, Paglia explained, “no one is abandoned, even if we are against assisted suicide, because we don’t want to do death’s dirty job”.

Though the archbishop said suicide – whether assisted or self-inflicted – is always a “defeat” and a “failure” for both society and Church, he called for “a love supplement, a co-responsibility supplement” in this “selfish” and “cruel” society, particularly for the physically and mentally ill.

“We are all necessary, with no one to spare”, Paglia insisted.

The prelate also said he always celebrates the funerals of the victims of self-inflicted suicide, since the desire for death in this way is “a great request for love that was not satisfied. This is why the Lord never abandons anyone”.

Paglia’s insistence that the faithful can be physically present at the moment of an assisted suicide – even to hold the dying person’s hand – appears to contradict recent instructions of the Swiss Bishops.

That country’s Bishops told priests and pastoral workers that they must withdraw from the room at the moment of the administration of death-inducing drugs.

Full text of Archbishop Paglia’s address at the presentation of the International Symposium “Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative Care and the Mental Health of the Elderly”

The two themes chosen for this Congress are Palliative Care and Mental Health in ageing. These are two areas that are important for the future of our societies and not only in healthcare, since the sick and elderly are considered people who no longer have anything to offer.

They are not productive, they are of no use, they constitute a burden for our societies that make efficiency into an absolute myth. An attitude denounced by Pope Francis who uses, as you know, the effective expression “throwaway culture”.

The Pontifical Academy for Life is committed to promoting a culture of palliative care at the level of the Catholic Church, everywhere in the world. We have already held various Congresses on this theme, both in Italy and in Europe; in the United States, with the signing of a Joint Declaration with the Methodist Church; in Brazil, in Lebanon and in Qatar, where in January 2018 I signed, indeed with Dr. Sultana Afdhal, a Joint Declaration. The Position Paper on the themes of end-of-life and palliative care, signed in the Vatican on 28 October with the representatives of the three Abrahamic religions should not be forgotten. (The texts of these documents are on our  website, where there is a well-documented page dedicated to the work of the Academy on Palliative Care www.academyforlife.va).

We have published a White Book for Global Palliative Care Advocacy, prepared by an international expert group. The text is available in English, German and Italian – it is also on our website – and Catholic Universities and the Catholic Hospitals throughout the world are receiving it to enable an increase not only in knowledge, but above all in the practice of palliative care.

We have in common the wish to promote a “palliative culture”, both to respond to the temptation that comes from euthanasia and assisted suicide, and especially to nurture a culture of care that enables companionship of love to be offered up the passage of death.

The Symposium that we are beginning tomorrow, as I said, unites two themes important to the future of healthcare policies in many countries in the world, and not only in the west.

We witness on the one hand the increasing ageing of the population; on the other the spread of a culture of euthanasia, since it is considered that the terminally ill and elderly should be discarded in a world focused on profit and economics, and healthcare policies often give in to this mentality that prioritizes accounts.

Instead we are well aware of how central palliative care is to the recovery of an integral accompaniment of the sick in contemporary medicine. And we know that we can treat, even when we can no longer cure, by balancing attention to the person with economic budgets. The experts tell us this and it will be discussed during the work of this Congress.

But I would also like to highlight a further aspect, which relates to a very important frontier field. If indeed the men and women of our time, at the moment of frailty, are in need of integral accompaniment, these is even more true with regard to minors. A specific section of our work is dedicated to a very delicate and painful subject: paediatric palliative care. When suffering afflicts minors, children, we are even more shaken.

These, then, are the fields in which religions define a common prospect: an accompaniment that looks at the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of each person. An interpretation of human existence and of reality that places value on religious experience enables a good to be seen and affirmed that goes beyond the mere measure of calculation.

The acknowledgment of the constitutive openness to the transcendence of the person enables the affirmation that in human life, even when it is fragile and apparently defeated by illness, there is an intangible preciousness.

Starting from the encounter with the Creator, it is possible to identify in finiteness an aspect of the human condition that, while inspiring rebellion and transgression in man, can open up to another reading: the limit can be rediscovered as a place of relation and communion. And this applies not only to the human being, but also to nature and the earth. The “I” finds its most complete expression in relation, that is, in “we”: two realities that cannot be separated from each other. We must patiently restore evidence to the dynamic of the mutual bond between the “I” and the “we”. Humanism is constituted of solidarity.

This is why the Pontifical Academy for Life is engaged on these frontiers.

Reinventing a new fraternity is the anthropological and social challenge of our days.

And it is precisely in this line that Pope Francis has given a specific mandate to the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of its institution, which was celebrated on 11 February this year. Overcoming the prevaricating and predatory attitude that we so often practice, we have been assigned the task of caring for the other and for creation, without which the very life of the human family would be deprived of what renders it possible.

Thank you.

Next on Novena:

Swiss Bishops instruct priests not to be physically present at moment of assisted suicide

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