Pontifical Academy seeks to redefine cultural definition of “health”

In a press conference this morning at the Vatican, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, discussed an upcoming assembly themed, “The Quality of Life and the Ethics of Health.”

The assembly of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life which will meet in the Vatican from February 21 to 23 to focus on what Bishop Sgreccia called, "two current and weighty concepts: 'the quality of life' and that of 'health'."

He said that "developed societies push for attaining a better level of the quality of life and international organizations intend to assure a better level of health," noting that "what exactly is meant by 'quality of life', is not yet clear to the public and perhaps not even to politicians themselves.

The president of the Pontifical Academy, defined "quality of life", by remarking that there are many parameters: medical-health, socio-economic, with a greater consumption of material goods today than in the past, and even ecological.”

But at the same time, he said, "a very different meaning has progressively emerged," a "reductive" meaning where "it is affirmed that where an acceptable level of quality of life does not exist, life loses its value and does not merit being lived." Here, he said, we see that "the quality of life becomes absolute and the sacredness of life becomes relative."

The bishop also talked about problems in defining the word "health.” “Even if health does not represent the ultimate good of the person”, he said, “it is however a very important one which demands the moral duty to preserve, support and recover it."

He noted the problems that have arisen since the World Health Organization defined health "as 'complete physical, mental and social well-being’; this value has become utopian and mythical" and sometimes has "lethal meanings," such as "the fact that, motivated by women's health, abortion was legalized.”

Up to what point does 'the right to health' go? Is there a right to health 'at all costs'? Or rather, is there a right to care?"

Jean Marie Le Mene, a magistrate and academy member, in his presentation focused on health and health care in both rich countries, where "it has evolved into a demand for well-being," and where medical expenses are ever higher and poorly regulated, and in poor countries where, he said, "the administration of health care is penalized by unsuitable situations."

He noted that in wealthy countries, "new needs are created", where the sole criteria is often "desire" - the desire to have - or not have - a child, to be beautiful, attractive, forever young.

Le Mene added that such desires have led to such moral negatives as, medically assisted procreation techniques for those who desire and cannot have children, abortions for the undesired child, techniques to suppress unborn children who are abnormal or handicapped, therapeutic cloning for those seeking youth.

The health systems of developing countries, he added, are "victims of ideologies" and of "piracies," the latter, he said, incorporating "biological piracy, the privatization of the biological patrimony of the South" and "juridical piracy, the attempts at the United Nations to authorize cloning, ... even though the majority of the countries present are for this interdiction."

Moral Theologian Fr. Maurizio Faggioni O.F.M., pointed out that "health is not simply an absence of disease, but the harmony and integration of all individual, physical, mental and spiritual energies towards a life project that is particular to each individual."

Turning to the so-called right to health, he affirmed that "it is not limited to people who enjoy specific standards of living, but derives from the right to life, a right that is rooted in each human being.”

“Persistently-emerging schools of thought”, he said, “estimate the value of each person's life and his right to health care in a way proportional to the current or potential quality of his life, in contrast Catholic morality prophetically announces the value of each human life and the duty to care for others; a duty that is all the more significant the greater its response to the appeal of simpler, poorer and more defenseless lives."

Dr. Manfred Lutz, a neurologist, psychiatrist and member of the academy, said that, "today we live in the age of the real existence of the religion of health. ... Health, goodness, like almost everything in our society, is seen as a product that can be manufactured."

Dr. Lutz underlined the fact that "salvation, according to Christian conviction, is not to be found primarily in so-called good health, but rather in the extreme situations of human life, situations that are disdained by the religion of health as realities to avoid or deficits to eliminate.”

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He added that, “it is precisely in disability, illness, pain, old-age dying and death that one may perceive the truth of life more vastly and clearly than in the passing of time without significant problems."

"If health represents the highest value," he said, "then the healthy man is also the true man. And whoever is not healthy, and above all whoever can never be healthy again, tacitly becomes a second or third class man."

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