By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis sends cordial greetings through Cardinal Parolin to the organizers and participants of the Palliative Care Congress organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life. Cardinal Parolin writes that this conference will be treating themes touching “the final moments of our earthly life which force the human person to face a limit which seems to be insurmountable for free will, thus at times arousing rebellion and anguish.” As a consequence, there is a movement in society to avoid these realities at all costs. Instead of heeding the inspiration of Psalm 89 “Teach us the number of our days that we might gain wisdom of heart,” we lose the riches hidden in our very finiteness: the occasion to mature in a way that makes us more sensitive to life.
Palliative care accompanies us where medicine can’t
Cardinal Parolin explains that palliative care does not make this mistake and this is why the topic is so important. Palliative care “in fact indicates a rediscovery of the most profound vocation of medicine, which primarily consists in providing care: its work is always to heal, even if it is not always possible to cure.” When medicine reaches the limits of what it can do, palliative care recognizes and accepts these limits, staying near those who are ill, “accompanying them in the difficult trial that makes itself present at the end of life,” Cardinal Parolin continues. In the end, the limitation changes meaning. It no longer means separation and solitude, but becomes “an occasion of encounter and communion.”
The fact that we are all children of God encompasses our entire lives. This truth is in no way diminished with the “loss of health, one’s role in society, or control over one’s own body,” Cardinal Parolin writes. Once again, it is palliative care that helps maintain this vision.
Competencies involved in palliative care
Turning to the conference itself, Cardinal Parolin writes that the schedule “highlights the manifold dimensions which enter into play in the practice of palliative care,” and mobilizes many competencies—scientific, organizational, relational, communicative, and spiritual. “Beyond the professional aspect, the importance of the family needs to be underlined,” he says.
Pain therapies concern palliative care very closely. There are ethical criteria which do not change and which “require an attentive discernment and prudence” because when used over a period of time, sedatives “depress the relational and communicative dimension which we have seen is so critical in the accompaniment of the person during palliative care,” Cardinal Parolin reminds us.
Palliative care involves all people of good will
Finally, the Cardinal observes that the complexity and delicacy of the issue of palliative care requires continued reflection. He also says that making palliative care more accessible is something that believers will find in common with many other persons of good will. “It is significant that from this perspective there are representatives from various religious persuasions and cultures present at your meeting” exploring together the issues of a common commitment.