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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis has delivered his most categorical condemnation of euthanasia and assisted suicide to date, calling on healthcare professionals to "reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness."
"Life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely," the Holy Father asserted in a strongly worded message for the upcoming 28th World Day of the Sick, urging medics to be "open to the transcendent dimension of your profession that reveals its ultimate meaning."
"In some cases, conscientious objection becomes a necessary decision if you are to be consistent with your 'yes' to life and to the human person," Francis told medical professionals on Jan. 3 in a Vatican communique.
"Every diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic, research, cure and rehabilitation intervention is addressed to the sick person, where the noun 'person' always comes before the adjective 'sick,'" Francis insisted, calling on medics to "always act to promote the dignity and life of the person, without any yielding to euthanasia, assisted suicide," even "when the state of the disease is irreversible." He added:
Your professionalism, sustained by Christian charity, will be the best service you can offer for the safeguarding of the truest human right, the right to life. When you can no longer provide a cure, you will still be able to provide care and healing, through gestures and procedures that give comfort and relief to the sick.
Expounding Jesus' words in Matthew's Gospel, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest," Francis stressed that the "words of Christ express the solidarity of the Son of Man with all those who are hurt and afflicted."
"Jesus repeats these words to the sick, the oppressed, and the poor," because "He Himself became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from His Father," Francis affirmed, observing that "only those who personally experience suffering are then able to comfort others."
The pontiff emphasized the role of the "Church as the 'inn' of the Good Samaritan Who is Christ," where sick and terminally ill people could find a place of rest and "a home where you can encounter His grace, which finds expression in closeness, acceptance and relief."
"In this home, you can meet people who, healed in their frailty by God's mercy, will help you bear your cross and enable your suffering to give you a new perspective. You will be able to look beyond your illness to a greater horizon of new light and fresh strength for your lives," Francis said.
On Saturday, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, reiterated the papal denunciation of euthanasia and pleaded with medical experts to "flee the temptation of an omnipotent medicine that, when it fails and cannot heal, must withdraw."
"This is a technical position based on efficiency that is detached from a human perspective," but could be overcome with "palliative care that wants to accompany and surround the life of the weakest with the cloak of love," he remarked.
Paglia said his contacts with a secular institution like the World Medical Association have been positive, since it had also expressed its stand against euthanasia and assisted suicide. This is "because a doctor's healthy conscience has been formed to heal, not to eliminate," he explained.
However, Paglia came under fire when at a press conference in December he claimed that Judas wasn't punished in Hell for the sin of suicide.
"For a Catholic to say [Judas is in Hell], it's heresy," Paglia remarked, despite Jesus' words about Judas: "It were better for him if that man had not been born."
Paglia also disagreed with the opinion that a priest should not be in the room at a person's assisted suicide, saying that being present "to hold the hand of someone who is dying" by assisted suicide "is something that every faithful must promote ... ."
Dutch Cdl. Willem Eijk of Utrecht corrected Paglia, stating that priests "must not be present when euthanasia or assisted suicide are performed," since "the presence of the priest might suggest that the priest is backing the decision or even that euthanasia or assisted suicide are not morally illicit in some circumstances."
In October, 30 representatives from Judaism, Islam and Christianity signed a declaration rejecting euthanasia and assisted suicide and encouraging palliative care everywhere and for everyone:
We oppose any form of euthanasia — that is the direct, deliberate and intentional act of taking life — as well as physician-assisted suicide — that is the direct, deliberate and intentional support of committing suicide — because they fundamentally contradict the inalienable value of human life, and therefore are inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden without exceptions.
The declaration was proposed to Pope Francis by Israeli medical ethicist and pediatric neurologist Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, who asked the Pontifical Academy for Life to co-ordinate an interfaith group to draft the declaration.
"Even when efforts to continue staving off death seems unreasonably burdensome," the declaration noted, "we are morally and religiously duty-bound to provide comfort, effective pain and symptoms relief, companionship, care and spiritual assistance to the dying patient and to her/his family."
The papal statement is being seen as a challenge to the Italian Constitutional Court's September judgment expunging the crime of "suicide facilitation" from article 580 of the penal code.
Instead, under certain conditions, those who help others to die will no longer be punished. The conditions are that the purpose of suicide is "autonomously and freely formed" and that the patient is "kept alive by life-sustaining treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology, source of physical and psychological suffering which he considers intolerable but is fully capable of making free and informed decisions."