When faced with the new challenges that arise with regard to “end-of-life” issues, “the categorical imperative is to never abandon the sick,” says Pope Francis.
In a letter to participants in the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association on end-of-life issues, Pope Francis said:
"The anguish associated with conditions that bring us to the threshold of human mortality, and the difficulty of the decision we have to make, may tempt us to step back from the patient. Yet this is where, more than anything else, we are called to show love and closeness, recognizing the limit that we all share and showing our solidarity."
In his message, the Holy Father called for "greater wisdom" in striking a balance between medical efforts to prolong life, and the responsible decision to withhold treatment when death becomes inevitable. "It is clear that not adopting, or else suspending, disproportionate measures, means avoiding overzealous treatment," the Pope said. "From an ethical standpoint, it is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death."
Pope Francis acknowledged that it is often difficult to determine the proper course of action in increasingly complex cases. "There needs to be a careful discernment of the moral object, the attending circumstances, and the intentions of those involved," he said, pointing to the traditional criteria of moral theology for evaluating human actions. But in this process, he insisted "the patient has the primary role."
The Holy Father also raised the issue of "a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care," both globally - especially between different continents - and within individual, especially wealthy countries, where options for health care often depend more on "economic resources," than the "actual need for treatment."
It is important, Pope Francis said, to find agreed solutions to "these sensitive issues." He emphasized the need to recognize different world views and ethical systems, but also noted the duty of the state to protect the dignity of every human person, especially the most vulnerable.
More on the subject:
Full text of Pope Francis' letter
Our topic on Life and Liberty issues