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May your profession ever safeguard and promote human life

On Thursday, 4 October 1984, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the Congress of the Italian Association of Anaesthesiology. Following is the translation of the Pope's address on this occasion.

1. It is with great joy that I welcome the visit of the participants in the Congress of the Italian Society of Anaesthesiology, which this year is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its existence and of its activity. In thanking Prof. Corrado Manni for the words with which he has expressed your common sentiments, I greet the members of the Managing Committee of the Italian Society of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Reanimation and Intensive Therapy with their President, Prof. Gualtiero Bellucci, and the members of the Managing Committee of the Italian Association of Hospital Anaesthetists and Reanimators, led by its President Prof. Girolamo Gagliardi. I offer a special greeting also to Monsignor Fiorenzo Angelini, zealous animator of the health-care apostolate, and once again a greeting to all here present.

2. You requested this meeting in order to hear the Pope's word and to receive his encouragement for your profession. I do not hesitate to call it "diaconia" for man, so much is it ordered to his life and his health: and for this reason it is truly a pleasure for me to receive you.

Since the time that pain, because of sin, made its inroads into human nature, corrupting its physical and psychic integrity, man has sought by every possible means to combat it, to alleviate it and to eliminate it. This is a "natural", spontaneous, immediate reaction. But, with the progress of science, the weapons, so to speak, were sharpened, increasingly perfected medications and methods were found. From this trend sprang a new branch of applied medicine, anaesthesiology, which today occupies a primary position in the treatment of pain. In a few years' time, from an extraordinary and exceptional instrument, it became a providential element of health care, aiding a less dramatic course of illness, even in those subject to irreversible and deadly diseases, and facilitating as well that relief of suffering which is at the same time a therapeutic factor since it helps the physical and the psychic in man to concur in reaction to the assault of disease.

The merits of anaesthesiology are further revealed in the contribution it offers to the possibility of increasing the forms of therapeutic intervention which, thanks to its contribution, is today becoming acquainted with ever new and even extraordinary resources, both as to quality and to quantity.

Those who operate in this field, always acting with serious scientific knowledge and an upright conscience, whether believer or nonbelievers, are called in a special way to render a most noble service to the sacredness of life whose defence constitutes both the reputation and the boast of medical science.

3. Even from these simple references, illustrious ladies and gentlemen, it is immediately evident how important is the role you are called to play in the health sector and more specifically in the hospitals, in the clinics and in the houses of care. It is up to you, in fact, according to your competences, to prepare the sick person to undergo surgery. Moral sense compels you to employ every possible degree of diligence and competency to insure the perfect success of the operation. But, and I am sure of this, you do not limit yourselves only to this. Before you, in your very hands, you have a person with his dignity and his rights, who bears the image of God the Creator engraved in his being. You have a brother or sister who must face with serenity and trust an operation to which a certain risk is always attached, in proportion to the quality and extent of the disease. This causes an understandable state of anxiety in the patient and in his family.

Since you regard him precisely as a brother, you feel impelled to reserve for him a "fully human" treatment, that is, one worthy of a creature of God who finds himself in a particular situation. For this reason, you do not stop at offering the sick person what the medical profession prescribes for the case in question, but you strive in every way also to make the operation less burdensome and more safe for him, inspiring him with courage and showing him affection and complete solidarity. You make every effort that the "preparation" be perfect, and then, with dedication and fraternal spirit you follow him moment by moment through the difficult and sometimes complicated iter (course) of the operation itself, ready to intervene in any eventuality, in order that life be guaranteed maximum safety. Your work will continue even after the operation with helping the patient to regain consciousness, to overcome psychological traumas and to eliminate possible negative effect.

4. But it could also happen that you sometimes find yourselves in situations that conflict with your conscience. On the one hand the undeniable demands of the moral order, and on the other a request in evident conflict with those demands. The case in point may materialize in a variety of situations. I mention only two such cases: the one, unfortunately frequent today, in which your intervention is requested to suppress a life already begun in the mother's womb, and the one in which your profession is called on to directly provoke the so-called "happy" death of the incurably ill. It is necessary to reaffirm emphatically, before these and any other violation of the life of the psycho-physical integrity of the innocent person, that the law of nature, even before the evangelical law, forbids such behaviour. Innocent human life is sacred: to violate this basic principle of every civil society means throwing the human being down from that pedestal on which his dignity as a person places him and reducing him so that he himself becomes a pedestal for other fellow human beings who happen to be endowed with greater political, economic or social power.

May your profession, born to safeguard and promote human life, not become conniving at this type of aberration, by contradicting its original purposes and becoming ultimately supportive of the culture not of life, but of death.

5. Anaesthesiology, as I have mentioned, has made great advances. In the diligent course of your work you too are called on to offer your personal contribution to the progress of this branch of medicine, whether by discovering new types of medication, or by developing new methods. One can never be satisfied with the goals already achieved in alleviating pain. There in fact remain many areas to explore in the search for the causes of pain, and also, in the face of the rise of illnesses which seem destined to cause atrocious and indescribable sufferings, there is an obligation to intensify studies in order to render therapy more effective and the methods more safe. It seems superfluous to tell you, whose basic position is the safeguarding of human life, that even possible new methods and possible new drugs will always have to be employed with respect for the dignity of the human person and of his inalienable rights. The duty to reaffirm this increases in proportion to the increased attempts by the culture of death to solicit peoples' consent.

The Church, as is well known, is not for the endurance of pain at all costs. In its Magisterium, and I have reaffirmed this in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, it maintains as licit that action which seeks to alleviate or eliminate physical pain in respect for the moral order and the dignity of the person. Yet even as it affirms this principle that has its roots in the Bible, it exhorts Christians and all believers to endure suffering in union with Christ, who, for our salvation, became the servant of Jahweh and the man of sorrows (Salvifici Doloris, n. 17). In fact, in suffering, which not always and not entirely can be eliminated, the believer finds the strength to purify himself and to cooperate in the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Faith illumines with hope his path toward the heavenly homeland and strengthens his certitude that even this corruptible body will be transformed into a glorious and incorruptible body by the power of Christ who has conquered death.

Invoking his continuous assistance upon your work, I heartily impart my Blessing to you and to those dear to you, with the wish that the progress of your science be always an expression of service to man and to his highest destiny.

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