Pope Benedict received participants in an international congress entitled: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects" today and reiterated that the Church is against all forms of euthanasia.
The event which brought the specialists to the Vatican is being promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life as part of their general assembly. The gathering will take place in the Vatican over the coming days.
Reflecting on the moment of death, the Pope said that it “concludes the experience of earthly life, but through death there opens for each of us, beyond time, the full and definitive life. ... For the community of believers, this encounter between the dying person and the Source of Life and Love represents a gift that has a universal value, that enriches the communion of the faithful".
This moment of encounter, the Holy Father emphasized should draw the community along with close relatives around the dying person in support as they face the last moments of their life. "No believer", he said, "should die alone and abandoned".
Benedict XVI also spoke of the larger societal dimension of respecting those who are ill or dying. All society "is called to respect the life and dignity of the seriously ill and the dying", he said. "Though aware of the fact that 'it is not science that redeems man', all society, and in particular the sectors associated with medical science, are duty bound to express the solidarity of love, and to safeguard and respect human life in every moment of its earthly development, especially when it is ill or in its terminal stages.
"In more concrete terms", he added, "this means ensuring that every person in need finds the necessary support through appropriate treatments and medical procedures - identified and administered using criteria of therapeutic proportionality - while bearing in mind the moral duty to administer (on the part of doctors) and to accept (on the part of patients) those means for preserving life which, in a particular situation, may be considered as 'ordinary'".
As for forms of treatment "with significant levels of risk or that may reasonably be judged to be 'extraordinary', recourse thereto may be considered as morally acceptable, but optional. Furthermore, it will always be necessary to ensure that everyone has the treatment they require, and that families tried by the sickness of one of their members receive support, especially if the sickness is serious or prolonged".
Pope Benedict also pointed to how society can improve its support for the dying or seriously ill.
Just as when a child is born family members have specific rights to take time off work, said the Pope, in the same way "similar rights must be recognized" to the relatives of the terminally ill. "A greater respect for individual human life inevitably comes through the concrete solidarity of each and all, and constitutes one of the most pressing challenges of our times".
After raising the issue of how it is becoming more common for elderly people in large cities to be alone "even in moments of serious illness and when approaching death", the Holy Father noted that such situations increase pressures towards euthanasia, "especially when a utilitarian view of people has become established".
In this context, the Holy Father once again recalled "the firm and constant ethical condemnation of all forms of direct euthanasia, in keeping with the centuries-long teaching of the Church".
"The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a poor family or a hospital bed".
Society, said the Pontiff, must "ensure due support to families who undertake to care in the home, sometimes for long periods, sick members who are afflicted with degenerative conditions, ... or who need particularly costly assistance. ... It is above all in this field that synergy between the Church and the institutions can prove particularly important in ensuring the necessary help for human life in moments of frailty".