By Christopher Wells
“Incurable cannot mean that care comes to an end,” says Samaritanus bonus, the new Letter “on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life.”
Prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by Pope Francis, the Letter aims at providing concrete ways to put into practice the parable of the Good Samaritan, who teaches us that “even when a cure is unlikely or impossible,” medical care, nursing care, psychological and spiritual care “should never be forsaken.”
Reaffirming the Gospel of life
The document is intended to reaffirm the message of the Gospel about life as proposed by the Magisterium, the Church’s teaching authority; and to provide pastoral guidelines to deal with the complex end-of-life issues at a local level, in a way that fosters the patient’s encounter with the merciful love of God.
In its treatment of this delicate topic, Samaritanus bonus focuses on the theological significance of the mystery of suffering. “In times of suffering,” it says, “the human person should be able to experience a solidarity and a love that takes on suffering, offering a sense of life that extends beyond death.”
Standing at the foot of the Cross
In emphasizing the fundamental value and dignity of every human life, Samaritanus bonus also focuses on the importance of caring for those who are sick. The document insists on the importance “standing by” those who are facing the end of their lives, as Mary and the disciples stood by Jesus at the foot of the Cross. “To those who care for the sick,” it reads, “the scene of the Cross provides a way of understanding that even when there is nothing more to do, there remains much to be done, because ‘remaining by the side of the sick is a sign of love and the hope it contains.”
The CDF document says, “The Church learns from the Good Samaritan how to care for the terminally ill, and likewise obeys the commandment linked to the gift of life: [to] ‘respect, defend, love, and serve life, every human life’,” quoting the words of St John Paul II.
Accompanying the dying
Samaritanus bonus offers a vision of how to translate the message of the Good Samaritan “into a readiness to accompany a suffering person in the terminal stages of life in this world, and to offer this assistance in a way that respects and promotes the intrinsic human dignity of persons who are ill, their vocation to holiness, and thus the highest worth of their existence.”