Pope warns against euthanasia for "elderly sick"

At a meeting with participants in an international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care on November 17, Pope Benedict XVI urged that the value of life be respected in the face of the temptation to euthanize the elderly sick, which he called a symptom of the culture of death.

The Pope noted that the theme of the meeting, the pastoral care of sick elderly people, "is a fundamental aspect of health care ministry." Those who accompany such people, he said, may ask themselves: "Does the existence of a human being, when in a very precarious state because of age or infirmity, still have meaning? Why, when the challenge of sickness becomes so dramatic, should we not accept euthanasia as a form of liberation? Is it possible to live with illness as a human experience to be accepted with patience and courage?"

After highlighting how "modern efficiency-oriented mentality" considers elderly sick people "as a 'burden' and a 'problem' for society," Benedict XVI indicated the need to adopt palliative care methods where required, even though they may not lead to a cure. "And alongside the indispensable clinical treatment," he said, "sick people have need of understanding, comfort and of constant encouragement and accompaniment.

"Old people in particular," the Pope added, "need to be helped to follow the last stage of their earthly lives consciously and humanly, to prepare themselves serenely for death which - we Christians know - is the passage to the embrace of the heavenly Father, full of tenderness and mercy."

Benedict said families should welcome their sick elderly members "and look after them with loving gratitude," so they may prepare for death "in an atmosphere of familial affection."

"In the most difficult moments," he said, "sick people ... should be encouraged to find the strength to face their trials in prayer and the comfort of the Sacraments. They should be surrounded by brothers and sisters in the faith who are ready to listen to them and share their feelings. This, in fact, is the true aim of the 'pastoral' care of elderly people, especially when they are ill, and even more so when they are seriously ill."

Benedict XVI recalled the "the exemplary witness of faith and courage" shown by John Paul II during his sickness, and the late Pope's call to scientists and doctors "to dedicate themselves to research to prevent and cure the illness associated with old age without ever giving in to the temptation to adopt practices that shorten elderly and sick lives, practices which would in effect constitute euthanasia."

"Human life is a gift from God which we are all called to protect at all times," the Holy Father said. "What is needed is a generalized commitment so that human life may be respected, not only in Catholic hospitals but in all places that care for the sick."

In closing the Pope highlighted how Jesus, "dying on the cross, gave human suffering transcendent value and significance. In the face of suffering and sickness believers are called not to lose their serenity because nothing, not even death, can separate us from Christ's love. In Him and with Him it is possible to face up to and overcome all physical and spiritual trials and, even in the moment of greatest suffering, experience the fruits of Redemption."

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