During the Palliative Care Congress organised by the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which took place in Rome from 28 February to 1 March, the Holy Father encouraged the use of palliative care through a letter signed by Cardinal Parolin.
Medicine’s deepest vocation, as far as the Pope is concerned, is based on “constant care” even in situations where a cure is not always possible. “In the final moments of our earthly life, human beings face what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle before achieving freedom, often experiencing both rebellion and anxiety at the same time”. However, to the eviction of death deprives us “of the wealth [of knowledge] cleverly concealed in finiteness and of the opportunity to develop a lifestyle that has more meaning on a personal and social level”.
The Cardinal continued by emphasising the consistent need to “rediscover the deeper vocation of medicine, which is primarily to take care [of the sick]: their [the doctors’] task is always to take care of patients even if a cure isn’t always feasible”. And “within clinical practice, palliative care bears testimony to the awareness that the limitation not only has to be overcome and exceeded, but also recognised and accepted. And this doesn’t mean abandoning sick people, but rather being close to them and accompanying them in the difficult ordeal to be faced at the end of life”. Death per se “is introduced into a symbolic horizon within which it can appear not so much as the term against which life crumbles and succumbs, but rather as the fulfilment of a freely received and lovingly shared existence”.
The letter went on to say that, “the logic of care is, in fact, a reminder of the mutual dependence on love which certainly emerges with particular emphasis in times of sickness and suffering, especially at the end of life, but which in reality permeates all human relationships and indeed constitutes their most specific feature”.
On the subject of pain, the letter emphasises the need for “pain relief” as a separate entity from euthanasia, whereby substances must be handled in accordance with procedures, and “always with careful discernment and considerable caution”.
Finally, the Cardinal discussed the topic of continuous deep sedation which is “partly unsatisfactory, so it must be considered as an extreme remedy after having carefully examined and clarified the indications”. He also called for the global dissemination of palliative care.
Interviewed on the fringes of this Congress, Marie-Charlotte Bouësseau from the Department of Service Delivery and Safety at the World Health Organisation in Geneva sees palliative care as “a shining example of person-centred as opposed to disease-centred care”. She went on to add that, “If we manage to devise Palliative Care programmes within our societies, we are responding to specific needs and are also helping to transform our health care systems into genuine person-centred care systems”. Palliative care is “an ethical imperative and an unmissable opportunity to rehumanise medicine”.
Vatican news, Cyprien Viet (28/02/2018) ; Vatican news, Xavier Sastre (28/02/2018) ; Zenit, Hélène Ginabat (28/02/2018)