A press conference at the Vatican on Thursday presented the details of an upcoming meeting that will discuss the care of the incurably sick and the dying.
The international congress, named “Close by the Incurably Sick and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects,” is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Life. It is scheduled to take place next week from February 25-26.
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, summarized the goal of the congress as an attempt to focus on the moment “in which human fragility is felt most deeply, a moment often intensified by solitude and suffering.” This moment, he said, is very important in the Christian vision because “the physical body crumbles and the subject’s history comes to an end but they draw near the entrance to full life, eternal life.”
The bishop said the congress would examine the ethics of various medical therapies in response to “various doubts and continuing debate” about medical assistance. “The main focus will be on treatments that respond to precise ethical questions,” he said.
Monsignor Maurizio Calipari, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a bioethics professor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, explained that new medical techniques ensure greater life possibilities and better health for many people. However, they can sometimes bring “a greater affront than personal suffering to the patient without there being, or even contrary to there being, a real perspective of benefit.”
Monsignor Calipari said the congress would consider the ethical and technical criteria for prolonging life. He proposed that the ethical standards of ordinary versus extraordinary treatment (a traditional category), and proportionate versus disproportionate treatment (a newer category), could be supplemented with a new ethical standard that joins the two.
Zbigniew Zylicz, a medical director at an English hospice, addressed the press conference on the topics of palliative care, hospices, and household assistance. "Death", he said, "should be seen as a part of life, a normal event. The death of a loved one can even be an important moment of personal growth.”
He said hospice workers struggled with many ethical dilemmas, including questions of artificial nutrition and hydration, symptom control that can result in a patient’s early death, terminal sedation, and even increasing societal demand for euthanasia.