VATICAN CITY – Society and labor laws should give concrete support to family members so they can attend to terminally ill loved ones, Pope Benedict XVI said.
While guarantees must be made for all people to receive necessary medical care, special provisions also must be put into place for the patient’s family members, he said.
The pope made his comments during a Feb. 25 audience with more than 300 participants in a Vatican-sponsored congress on the pastoral needs of and ethical obligations toward the terminally ill.
Titled “Close By the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects,” the Feb. 25-26 congress brought together caregivers, medical specialists and scholars in the fields of theology, law and bioethics.
The international congress was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life and was held to coincide with the Lourdes jubilee year, which marks the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.
Just as some labor laws recognize the right to maternity and paternity leave so parents can spend time with their newborn child, similar rights should be guaranteed for close relatives to be able to spend time with a family member who is suffering from a terminal illness, the pope said in his audience address.
He said a compassionate society “cannot help but take into account the difficult conditions of families who, at times for lengthy periods, must carry the weight of taking care of the affairs and household of the seriously ill who are no longer self-sufficient.”
One of today’s most urgent challenges, he said, is making sure that respect for life translates into everyone concretely offering help to those in need.
Pope Benedict cited a portion of his encyclical, “Spe Salvi” (on Christian hope), saying a society that did not show compassion to its sick and suffering was “a cruel and inhuman society.”
“Fragile people and poorer families risk, during times of financial difficulty and/or illness, being swept asunder” in communities that put an unhealthy emphasis on productivity and the needs of the economy first, he said.
These attitudes – coupled with the growing numbers of sick or dying elderly who find themselves alone – all contribute to situations which foster a growing acceptance and support for euthanasia, he said.
Pope Benedict reiterated the church’s “firm and unwavering ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia.”
He repeated the moral obligation of doctors to administer and patients to accept proportionate and ordinary medical care aimed at supporting the patient’s life.
When a particular therapy or treatment is “significantly risky” or considered to be “extraordinary,” then pursuing such treatment is licit, but not mandatory, he said.
The pope reminded his audience that for Christians death is a gift “that has value for everyone” and “enriches the communion of all the faithful.”
“With death, earthly existence comes to a close, but through death a full and definitive life opens for each one of us beyond time,” he said.