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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Pontifical Academy for Life has categorically affirmed its commitment to life and rejected suggestions that it is on a slippery slope in support of assisted suicide.
The categorical affirmation came after a social media firestorm that accused academy president Abp. Vincenzo Paglia of abandoning the Church's position on assisted suicide in a talk he delivered at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on April 19.
In an exclusive interview with Church Militant, an authorized spokesperson for the Pontifical Academy for Life debunked the accusations against Paglia and offered an in-depth explanation of the thinking behind the archbishop's speech.
"Far from supporting assisted dying," the PAL spokesperson maintained, "the archbishop robustly challenged unbridled self-determination and the illusory individual 'freedom of choice' found in secular discussions of assisted suicide."
Archbishop Paglia's address was published on multiple sites, including the left-leaning Italian publication Il Riformista, which ambiguously headlined it, "The time has come for a law on assisted suicide."
In the context of a ruling by Italy's Constitutional Court, Paglia said that he would "personally, not take any part in assisted suicide," but he understands how "legislation set out under strict conditions in the Constitutional Court decision 242/2019 might offer the most concretely possible common good in our current circumstances."
"The person [requesting it] must be one who is being kept alive by life-support systems and who is suffering an irreversible medical condition that is causing bodily or mental suffering that he or she considers intolerable, but who is fully capable of making free and fully informed decisions," Paglia stressed, citing the conditions specified by the ruling.
Catholic news media and social media commenters erroneously interpreted the archbishop's speech that called for "legal mediation" to achieve the "greatest common good" in complex medical cases as greenlighting laws in support of assisted suicide.
Several media outlets called Paglia's position scandalous. Television broadcaster Catholic Sat tweeted, "He should do the right thing and tender his resignation to Pope Francis. If not, Pope Francis should remove him from his post as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life."
"Assisted suicide, and thus all suicide, is wrong, as is well known," the PAL spokesperson noted. "The Church teaches this, and, therefore, the academy and Abp. Paglia as representatives of the Church are categorically affirming Church teaching."
"Paglia was challenging the current overemphasis on individual self-determination," the spokesperson explained. "He was incisively pointing out how self-determination in a world of 'others' can never be exercised in a truly human fashion without taking into account how one fulfills his or her obligation to 'others' (including the terminally ill)."
In fact, the archbishop's speech lamented how "encouragement to illusory individual 'freedom of choice' appears to have led all too often to medical choices being made by interested health care providers using their 'substituted judgment' in the case of persons with reduced decision-making capability."
Paglia was also critical of how "involuntary euthanasia [is] described euphemistically as simply 'deep sedation,'" the spokesperson added. The archbishop's position is that "faced with circumstances which erode autonomy rather than strengthening it, the Church's answer is to call for truly human 'accompaniment' of the dying."
"It is impossible, in a pluralistic world, to obtain voluntary and universal acceptance, in a foreseeable time frame, of the Church's belief in the inviolability of human life," the spokesperson reasoned.
"In this light, the archbishop suggested that rather than acquiescing in the situation of growing, clearly lawless, misuse of the concept of freedom, society could, awaiting better days, counter such misuse through legislation that authoritatively and explicitly limits its possibility," the spokesperson stressed.
"Even that suggestion, however, comes with a caveat: We see that the Italian Constitutional Court decision that de-penalizes assisting in a suicide has been applied unequally to differing cases," PAL told Church Militant. "Courts and legislators must be alert to the fact that inconsistency in enforcement is a serious threat to justice."
On Monday, PAL issued a statement reiterating Paglia's "'no' towards euthanasia and assisted suicide, in full adherence to the Magisterium" and observed that "any further elaboration is uncalled for."
The statement pointed out Paglia's reference to the Italian Constitutional Court's sentence 242/2019 and the specific Italian situation the archbishop was addressing.
"The Constitutional Court held that assisting a suicide is a crime," the statement noted. "For Abp. Paglia, it is important that the decision holds that the criminality of the act remains the same and is not overruled."
On Friday, in an exclusive meeting with Church Militant, top personnel from PAL discussed ethical, theological and philosophical issues that had surfaced in recent months and affirmed that PAL retained a "total and unqualified commitment to life and to Catholic moral teaching on life issues."