Vatican Congress Organized on The Church's Care at the Bedside of the Dying

September 01, 2017

On August 24, 2017, this congress, organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, was attended by the world’s greatest experts on palliative care.

“Our sick friends, especially those with serious illnesses or who are dying, need to be surrounded by the love of all,” declared Archbishop Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on the Vatican Radio microphone, during his presentation of the congress on care for the dying that was held in Rome on August 24.

The seminar was organized in the midst of the media hype caused by the firm warning sent by Rome to the Belgian branch of a Catholic congregation devoted to caring for the sick – the Brothers of Charity of Ghent – that has been practicing “assisted suicide” for several months now in its establishments in Belgium.

As an alternative to euthanasia which, according to simple natural law, is always an unacceptable murder, the Church has for several decades now been devoting herself to developing palliative care that, in the terms of the president of the Academy for Life, represents, “in some aspects, the highest expression of care, since in the moment of greatest weakness, the sick person is surrounded by the love of all”.

The Symposium's Goal

The goal of the symposium was both to deepen and clarify the notion of palliative care in a Christian perspective, not reducing this care to a simple technical treatment of pain, which, in many cases, leads to forgetting to see the patient as a sick person and only concentrating on one of the aspects of the physical suffering he is enduring.

For Archbishop Paglia, this lack of perspective leads to “a sort of ‘vivisection' that leads nowhere, except to forgetting the human dimension of an event like death, that is connected to life and to the person,” he added in his interview with Vatican Radio.

In this perspective, treating pain must be accompanied by spiritual care for the patient. That is why an important part of the symposium was consecrated to the conference by renowned specialist Christina M. Puchalski. The Polish professor of medicine at the George Washington University in the United States is the director of an institute she founded, the GWish (George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health).

In her many works and contributions to various scientific journals, Mrs. Puchalski has shown that spiritual care for a patient, which is not a question of technique, when implemented as an integral part of palliative care, results in very significant benefits and consolations for the patient and for those around him.

Pius XII's Position on the Matter

Towards the end of his pontificate, Pope Pius XII declared in a radio message to the participants in the 7th International Congress of Catholic Doctors, on September 11, 1956:

The doctor maintains an attitude of respectful reserve towards the human body, because he knows this body is animated by a spirit, an immortal soul, that together with it forms one single nature that is entirely dependent on the religious and moral order.

“The Catholic doctor knows that his patient and himself are subject to the law of their conscience and to the will of God; but he also knows that all the resources of nature have been placed at his disposal by the Creator, in order that he might protect and defend men from sickness and infirmity.

“He does not divinize nature and medicine: he does not consider them as absolutes, but he sees in them a reflection of the greatness and goodness of God, and places them entirely in His service.”