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Palliative care protects human dignity
In an address to the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican last month, Pope Francis restated the church's commitment to protect the aged, and in particular, urged greater support for palliative care for the dying.
Palliative care is an expression of the attitude proper to man to take care of one another, especially those who suffer. They testify that the human person is always valuable, though marked by age and illness.
In every situation, the human person is good for themselves and for others, and is loved by God.
Therefore when life becomes very fragile and is approaching the end of its earthly existence, we have a responsibility to assist and accompany the person in the best possible way.
The biblical commandment that asks us to honour our parents, in a broad sense reminds us of the honour we owe to all older people.
In this commandment God offers a dual promise: "That your days may be long" (Ex 20:12), and - the other - "That you may be happy" (Deut 5:16).
Fidelity to the fourth commandment ensures not only the gifts of the earth, but also the chance to enjoy life.
Indeed, the wisdom that enables us to recognise the value of the elderly and leads us to honour that person, is the same wisdom that allows us to appreciate the many gifts that we receive daily from the providential hand of the Father and to be happy.
The precept reveals the fundamental pedagogical relationship between parents and children, between the elderly and the young, in reference to the custody and transmission of religious education and wisdom to future generations.
Honouring this teaching and those who convey it is a source of life and blessing.
At the same time, the Bible reserve a stern warning to those who neglect or mistreat their parents (cf. Ex 21:17; Lev 20.9).
The same holds good today when parents become older and less useful, are marginalised and then abandoned. Of this, we have many examples.
The word of God is always alive and well. See how the commandment is relevant to contemporary society, where the logic of utility takes precedence over that of solidarity and generosity, even within families.
We listen, therefore, with understanding heart, to the word of God that comes to us from the commandments which, let us always remember, are not bonds that imprison but are words of life.
"Honour" today could be translated as the duty to have the utmost respect and care for those who because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die or be put to death.
All medicine has a special role in society to witness the honour that is due to the older person and to every human being.
Evidence and efficiency cannot be the only criteria to govern the actions of doctors, nor are rules and economic profit the test of health services.
On the contrary, there is no duty more important for a company than to protect the human person.
Your work these days is exploring new areas of application for palliative care.
Until now, palliative care has been a valuable accompaniment for cancer patients, but there are many diseases, often linked to ageing and characterised by a progressive and chronic decline, that can make use of this type of assistance.
Older people need first the care of family members ľ whose love and affection cannot be replaced by even the most efficient institutions or the most competent health care.
When the elderly become dependent, or suffer from advanced or terminal disease, they can enjoy genuinely humane assistance and receive appropriate response to their needs thanks to palliative care offered to complement and support the care provided by family members.
Palliative care has the aim of alleviating the suffering in the final stage of life and to ensure that the patient is supported and accompanied in the final stage of the human journey (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 65).
This is important, especially for the elderly who because of age receive less attention from curative medicine and are often abandoned.
Abandonment is the most serious "disease" facing the elderly, and also the greatest injustice that they can suffer: those who have helped us to grow should not be abandoned when they need our help, our love and our tenderness.
I therefore welcome your commitment to science and the culture of life, to ensure that palliative care can reach all those who need it.
I encourage professionals and students to specialise in this type of assistance that has no less value than the desire to saves lives.
Palliative care realises something equally important: it enhances the person.
I urge all those who are involved in the field of palliative care, to practise this commitment preserving intact the spirit of service and remembering that medical knowledge is at its most noble when placed at the service of life. This good is never reached "against" his life and his dignity.
And 'this service capabilities in the life and dignity of the sick person, even when elderly, which measures the true progress of medicine and society as a whole.
I repeat the call of St John Paul II : "Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness! "(ibid 5).
I wish to continue the study and research, because the work of promoting and defending life be ever more effective and fruitful.
We pray to the Virgin Mother, Mother of life, and I give you my blessing.
Please do not forget to pray for me. Thank You.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 3 (April 2015), p. 9
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