.- "Loving the Lord ... means life to you and length of days" was announced today as the Holy Father’s theme for this Lent, based on Deuteronomy 30:20. Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", and Bishop Andre-Mutien Leonard of Namur, Belgium, an expert in questions relating to euthanasia, presented Pope John Paul II’s message this morning in the Vatican press office.
Archbishop Cordes affirmed that "the current relevance of the Message is clear when the Pope writes: 'Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly'."
The archbishop pointed out how "the number of elderly people has increased rapidly over recent years, while at the same time the number of young people has diminished," consequently "a small percentage of young people must bear the burden of the large number of elderly."
"It is clear that, with these new imbalances, the social cost of caring for the elderly constitutes a danger for the younger working population. This, in turn, may generate tension between the two groups or - as has already been written - a 'war of generations.'”
“Also evident”, he said, “is the fear arising in young people, when they find themselves dependent, as a minority, on elderly people whose security, health and support they must at the same time guarantee."
The president of "Cor Unum" indicated that "young people are becoming ever more aware that the elderly are an onus with various implications.”
They cost too much, they occupy living and housing space, they limit free time and amusement, they remind the young of their own future, they touch our feelings when they suffer and they thus indicate our own future suffering.”
Why, then, not remove them from sight? Why not exile them behind high walls? Why not offer them an agreeable death, and so get rid of them for good?
"There are associations that promote the 'right' - as they call it - to a 'dignified death.' The world of science offers concrete means to this end, cinema seeks to incite emotional attacks against existing laws, and politicians look to a new culture - the culture of death."
"Politicians must not be allowed to sacrifice man's dignity to populist or economic interests," the archbishop concluded. "The dignity of man is untouchable, because it is a gift of God. Yet we must exercise our influence not only on the state and society: Even in our private life - in the family and the neighborhood - we must be guided by these words of the Pope."
Bishop Leonard, recalling a phrase from the Pope's Lenten Message - "human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages" - then spoke about euthanasia, which he defined as "an explicit act or omission which, of itself or in its intention, brings death with the aim of ending the suffering of a terminally ill person."
"Euthanasia in its true sense is not to be confused with the perfectly legal use of prescribed analgesic products that aim to suppress or alleviate pain, even though they may result in a shortening of life."
The Belgian bishop made reference to paragraph nine of Recommendation 1418, approved by the Council of Europe in 1999, which "categorically excludes recourse to euthanasia for the terminally ill or dying, highlighting that the terminally ill or dying person's wish to die cannot of itself constitute a legal justification to carry out actions intended to bring about death."
The bishop concluded by saying that in his Message, the Holy Father promotes a humanist approach.
"Let us hope that this positive attitude, in keeping not only with the Catholic faith but also with philosophical humanism, prevails over the terrible temptation of euthanasia."