During an audience on Saturday with participants of the 22nd international conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Pope Benedict XVI called for complete respect for the life and human dignity of the infirm and the elderly, who are often marginalized as a “weight” and a “problem” by “today's mentality of efficiency."
The Pope commented on the theme of the conference, "The Pastoral Care of Elderly Sick People,” which is of interest to “an increasingly larger population, which has many needs and at the same time unmistakable human and spiritual resources.”
“Today's mentality of efficiency" views elderly sick people as "a 'burden' and a 'problem' for society,” the Holy Father said in his message. "Those who have an understanding of human dignity, however, know that the elderly must be respected and supported while they face the serious difficulties linked to their state," he added.
The elderly who are affected by incurable illnesses need palliative care that is able to mitigate the pain, the Holy Father said, in order to face "in a conscious and human way the last stage of earthly existence, to serenely prepare for death." Moreover, in addition to competent medical care, "the sick need understanding, comfort and constant encouragement and accompaniment."
John Paul II and suffering
Noting that for Christians death is a “journey towards the embrace of the heavenly Father, full of tenderness and mercy” and that the sick need the support of their family and the Sacraments, the Pope recalled the witness of John Paul II.
“On numerous occasions, my venerable predecessor John Paul II, especially by offering an "exemplary witness of faith and courage" in his illness, exhorted scientists and physicians to never cede "to the temptation to have recourse to the practice of shortening the life of the elderly or the sick, practices that would in fact result in forms of euthanasia."
He also exhorted those charged with care for the infirm, as well as politicians and administrators, to never forget that “the temptation of euthanasia appears as one of the more alarming symptoms of the culture of death that is advancing above all in the society of well-being."
Benedict XVI called for a “general commitment” to respect human life not only in Catholic hospitals but in all places that offer medical care, and he exhorted “believers facing illness and death to "not to lose their serenity, because nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of Christ."