.- The Catholic Churchâs delegation to the United Nations in Geneva has taken âstrong exceptionâ to a reference to assisted suicide in a special report on the place of the elderly in society, despite its agreement with other aspects of the report.
âWe strongly believe that life is a gift that no person has the so-called ârightâ to end, that death is the culmination of a natural process and no person, even the elderly or suffering person himself or herself, is entitled to cause or hasten the natural process of dying through biomedical or any other means,â explained Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, head of the Holy Seeâs permanent observer mission to the United Nations and Specialized Agencies in Geneva.
On Sept. 16 he spoke to the 18th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council about its special rapporteurâs study on older personsâ right to health.
Archbishop Tomasiâs criticism focused on a reference about âissues of patient autonomy in respect of deciding to end life,â though he acknowledged that the reportâs author did not treat such issues âin the context of the present report.â
The archbishop said that the Church exhorts scientists and doctors to research prevention and treatment of illnesses linked to old age without ever bending to âthe temptation to have recourse to practices that shorten the life of the aged and sick, practices that would turn out to be, in fact, forms of euthanasia.â
He said the Catholic Church sees the growing number of aging persons as a âblessingâ rather than âa burden on society.â The Church sponsors 15,448 homes for the aged, chronically ill and handicapped persons around the world.
The archbishop cited Pope Benedict XVIâs September 2010 address to a rest home in London. The Pope said that every generation can learn from âthe experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it.
âIndeed, the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude,â said the Pope.
Despite his objection to the reportâs reference to âdeciding to end life,â Archbishop Tomasi expressed agreement with many aspects of the report. He agreed that states should allocate more resources for geriatric care and should train health personnel to interact with elderly patients in âan appropriate, considerate and non-discriminatory manner.â The archbishop also noted the special need to protect frail elderly persons against physical and emotional abuse by caregivers or family members.
The increase in the proportion of older persons is âcross-culturalâ and the rapporteur was âcompellingâ to say that protecting older personâs human rights should be of concern to everyone, because every person ages.
The special rapporteur encouraged a shift away from the current biomedical view of aging which sees it as âan abnormal or pathological phenomenonâ and âequates advanced age with illness.â