Receiving participants in the international conference on palliative cures at the Vatican this morning, Pope John Paul II issued strong words against the practice of euthanasia as a means to alleviate suffering, saying it is “motivated by sentiments of a poorly understood compassion” and that it “supresses” rather than redeems the person from suffering.
"Medicine," said the Pope, "always places itself at the service of life. Even when it knows it cannot defeat a serious pathology, it dedicates its own capabilities to alleviating suffering.”
“To work with passion to help the patient in every situation means to be aware of the inalienable dignity of every human being, even those in the extreme conditions of a terminal state," he said.
"In fact, there is a directly proportional relationship between the capacity to suffer and the capacity to help those who are suffering," said the Holy Father. He noted that people who are sensitive to the pain of others to helping them "are also more disposed, with the help of God, to accepting their own suffering."
Euthanasia, said the Pope, is one of those "dramas caused by an ethic which seeks to establish who can live and who must die.”
“Even when motivated by sentiments of a poorly understood compassion,” he said, “euthanasia, instead of redeeming the person from suffering, suppresses them."
John Paul II said that wrongly understood compassion "leads to snuffing out life in order to alleviate pain, thus overturning the ethical statute of medical science.”
“True compassion, on the contrary, promotes every reasonable effort to favor the patient's healing," said the Pope.
The Pope also addressed the question of intense therapy, saying that "the eventual decision to not undertake or to interrupt therapy will be considered ethically correct when (such therapy) is inefficacious or clearly disproportionate to the ends of supporting life or recovering health. Refusal of intense therapy, thus, is an expression of the respect that is owed to the patient in every instance," he said.
The patient should be accompanied lovingly to the end of his life, and special care taken to alleviate his suffering, as well as preparing his "soul to meet the heavenly Father."
The Pope underscored that administering painkillers "must be proportional to the intensity and cure of pain, avoiding every form of euthanasia" by giving a quantity of medicine that would cause death.
The Pope concluded his discourse by reaffirming that "science and technology, in any case, can never give a satisfactory answer to the basic questions of the human heart. Only faith can answer these questions. The Church intends to offer her specific contribution by the human and spiritual accompaniment of the ill."