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Pope Francis meeting representatives of the Italian orders of surgeons and dentists. Pope Francis meeting representatives of the Italian orders of surgeons and dentists.   (Vatican Media)

Pope to doctors: reject temptation to assist and support suicide and euthanasia

In a meeting on Friday with representatives of Italy’s surgeons and dentists, Pope Francis spoke about encountering in their patients, persons who are unique in their dignity and fragility, and not just their illness.

By Robin Gomes

Pope Francis on Friday urged doctors to reject the temptation to assist and support suicide and euthanasia, reminding them of the Hippocratic oath that calls on them to commit themselves to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.

“Medicine, by definition, is a service to human life, which involves an essential and indispensable reference to the person in his spiritual and material integrity, in his individual and social dimension.”  “Hence medicine is at the service of man, of the whole man, of every man,” Pope Francis told some 350 representatives of the National Federation of the Orders of Medical Surgeons and Dentists of Italy, whom he met on Friday in the Vatican.  

Vision of the human person 

He told them that illness is not a mere clinical fact restricted to medicine alone, but includes the condition of a person, the sick.  In this human vision, he said, doctors are called to relate to the patient, taking into consideration his singularity as a person who has an illness, and not just the case of the illness the patient has.

This is why, the Pope said, it is important that “the doctor does not lose sight of the uniqueness of each patient, with his dignity and his fragility”.  “A man or a woman should be accompanied with conscience, intelligence and heart, especially in the most serious situations.”

Suicide, euthanasia

“With this attitude,” the Pope said, “we can and must reject the temptation, also induced by legislative changes, to use medicine to support a possible willingness of the patient to die, providing assistance for suicide or directly causing death by euthanasia.”

The Pope said that these are hasty ways of dealing with choices that are not, as they might appear, an expression of the person's freedom, when they include getting rid of the patient as a possibility, or false compassion in the face of the request to be helped to anticipate death.

Sacredness of human life

In this regard, Pope Francis recalled the “New Charter for Health Care Workers” of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers that says: "There is no right to dispose arbitrarily of one's life, so no doctor can become an executive guardian of a non-existent right."

He also recalled his predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II, who pointed to the intrinsic and indispensable ethical dimension of the health care profession of the Hippocratic oath, according to which “every doctor is asked to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness".   

20 September 2019, 14:49