By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis’ call for palliative care – not euthanasia or assisted suicide – during the General Audience came on the first day of the Pontifical Academy of Life’s webinar to improve, support and disseminate palliative care in the world.
Speaking on Wednesday during his catechesis, the Pope expressed gratitude for palliative care which seeks to accompany and support people at the end of life.
“I would point out that the right to care and treatment for all must always be prioritized, so that the weakest, particularly the elderly and the sick, are never discarded,” he said.
The webinar, which sees the participation of over 300 experts from across the globe, concludes on the day the Church celebrates the World Day of the Sick.
Palliative care is a right
The event was inaugurated by the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia who stated that “palliative care is a right and it is positive that this awareness is spreading.”
Spearheading the project to disseminate palliative care in the world, an initiative called “PAL-LIFE” launched by the PAV in 2017 aims to contribute to the spread of the culture of palliative care across the globe as an effective action to counter the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Another of the pillars of the Pontifical Academy and a point of reference for this webinar is the “The White Paper” with the PAV’s position statement developed through a consensus process in regard to advocacy strategies for the advancement of palliative care in the world.
Amongst the key speakers at the webinar are Kathleen Benton, CEO of Hospice Savannah in the US, Ugandan Dr. Emmanuel Luyrika of the African Palliative Care Association, Carlos Centeno of the University of Navarra in Spain, Professor Chris Gastmans and Professor Jonah Menten from the Catholic University and the University Hospital in Leuven, Belgium, and Bishop Noel Simard of Valleyfield in Canada.
No to assisted suicide and euthanasia
During his intervention, Archbishop Paglia spoke of how palliative care “acts in respect and promotion of the dignity of the person, avoiding shortcuts that mortify the person, such as the various ways of suppressing life, from assisted suicide to euthanasia.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Archbishop upheld the Church’s role in promoting palliative care, noting that the issue has a strong Christian cultural perspective.
“Talking about palliative care,” he said, “does not mean talking about a dimension of care offered when there is nothing more to do. It means accompanying a sick person in the last time before his or her death, so that he or she may receive all possible clinical, human, psychological and spiritual care and assistance.”
“No one should be left alone in one of the most difficult moments or times of their life,” he said, and for believers, it includes an extra spiritual dimension in that death is not the end but a passage.
Education and implementation of legislation
He highlighted the need for the implementation of good legislation that already exists but is often ignored or not applied because of lack of awareness and said the Church has an important role to play also in working with the Ministry of Health and governmental commissions on the care of the aged.
The Church, Archbishop Paglia continued, is also fundamental in helping families and the dying person to avoid loneliness in difficult moments.
Echoing the Pope’s words he said: “We are against suicide absolutely. Killing should be avoided but therapeutic overkill should also be avoided. What these two dimensions have in common is the power over death: either hasten it or delay it. In between” he stressed, “there is accompaniment.”
The Archbishop concluded noting the increasing urgency of end-of-life care in an aging world and said Catholic Universities have an important role to play in formation, “in raising awareness of this perspective of what palliative care means: accompaniment at the highest level, clinical, cultural, spiritual and social.”