TO TWO WORKING GROUPS OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Life is a treasure and death is a natural event
On Monday, 21 October1985, Pope John Paul II received in audience two groups
of scientists assembled at the invitation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
to discuss the themes: "The Artificial Prolongation of Life and the
Determination of the Exact Moment of Death" and "The Interaction of Parasitic
Diseases and Nutrition". The Holy Father addressed the scientists as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I extend a most cordial welcome to all of you. And I rejoice with the
Pontifical Academy of sciences and its illustrious President Professor Carlos
Chagas for having succeeded in bringing together two groups of such
distinguished scientists to reflect on the themes: "The Artificial Prolongation
of Life and the Determination of the Exact Moment of Death", and "The
Interaction of Parasitic Diseases and Nutrition".
In the specialized areas encompassed by these themes, the men and women of
science and medicine give yet another proof of their desire to work for the good
of humanity. The Church joins with you in this task, for she too seeks to be the
servant of humanity. As I said in my first Encyclical RedemptorHominis:
"The Church cannot abandon man, for his 'destiny', that is to say, his election,
calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is so closely and unbreakably
linked with Christ" (No. 14).
2. Your presence reminds me of the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan, the
one who cared for an unnamed person who had been stripped of everything by
robbers and left wounded at the side of the road. The figure of that Good
Samaritan I see reflected in each one of you, who by means of science and
medicine offer your care to nameless sufferers, both among peoples in full
development and among the hosts of those individuals afflicted by diseases
caused by malnutrition.
For Christians, life and death, health and sickness, are given fresh meaning
by the words of Saint Paul: "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to
himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so
then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom 14:7-8).
These words offer great meaning and hope to us who believe in Christ;
non-Christians, too, whom the Church esteems and with whom she wishes to
collaborate, understand that within the mystery of life and death there are
values which transcend all earthly treasures.
3. When we approach the theme which you have dealt with in your first Group,
"The Artificial Prolongation of Life and the Determination of the Exact Moment
of Death", we do so with two fundamental convictions, namely- Life is a
treasure; Death is a natural event.
Since life is indeed a treasure, it is appropriate that scientists
promote research which can enhance and prolong human life and that physicians be
well informed of the most advanced scientific means available to them in the
field of medicine.
Scientists and physicians are called to place their skill and energy at the
service of life. They can never, for any reason or in any case, suppress it. For
all who have a keen sense of the supreme value of the human person, believers
and non-believers alike, euthanasia is a crime in which one must in no way
cooperate or even consent to. Scientists and physicians must not regard
themselves as the lords of life, but as its skilled and generous servants.
Only God who created the human person with an immortal soul and saved the human
body with the gift of the Resurrection is the Lord of life.
4. It is the task of doctors and medical workers to give the sick the
treatment which will help to cure them and which will aid them to bear their
sufferings with dignity. Even when the sick are incurable they are never
untreatable: whatever their condition, appropriate care should be provided for
Among the useful and licit forms of treatment is the use of painkillers.
Although some people may be able to accept suffering without alleviation, for
the majority pain diminishes their moral strength. Nevertheless, when
considering the use of these, it is necessary to observe the teaching contained
in the Declaration issued on 5 June 1980 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith: "Painkillers that cause unconsciousness need special consideration.
For a person not only has to be able to satisfy his or her moral duties and
family obligations; he or she also has to prepare himself or herself with full
consciousness for meeting Christ".
5. The physician is not the lord of life, but neither is he the conqueror of
death. Death is an inevitable fact of human life, and the use of means for
avoiding it must take into account the human condition. With regard to the
use of ordinary and extraordinary means the Church expressed herself in the
following terms in the Declaration which I have just mentioned: "If there are no
other sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patient's consent, to have
recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if
these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without a certain
risk... It is also permitted, with the patient's consent, to interrupt these
means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to
be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient
and the patient's family, as also of the advice of the doctors who are specially
competent in the matter... It is also permissible to make do with the normal
means that medicine can offer. Therefore one cannot impose on anyone the
obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which
carries a risk or is burdensome... When inevitable death is imminent in spite of
the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse
forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome
prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in
similar cases is not interrupted".
6. We are grateful to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for having studied in detail
the scientific problems connected with attempting to define the moment of
death. A knowledge of these problems is essential for deciding with a
sincere moral conscience the choice of ordinary or extraordinary forms of
treatment, and for dealing with the important moral and legal aspects of
transplants. It also helps us in the further consideration of whether the home
or the hospital is the more suitable place for treatment of the sick and
especially of the incurable.
The right to receive good treatment and the right to be able to die with
dignity demand human and material resources, at home and in hospital, which
ensure the comfort and dignity of the sick. Those who are sick and, above all,
the dying must not lack the affection of their families, the care of doctors and
nurses and the support of their friends.
Over and above all human comforts, no one can fail to see the enormous help
given to the dying and their families by faith in God and by hope in eternal
life. I would therefore ask hospitals, doctors and above all relatives,
especially in the present climate of secularization, to make it easy for the
sick to come to God, since in their illness they experience new questions and
anxieties which can find an answer only in God.
7. In many areas of the world the matter which you have begun to study in
your second Working Group has immense importance, namely the question of
malnutrition. Here the problem is not merely that of a scarcity of food but
also the quality of food, whether it is suitable or not for the healthy
development of the whole person. Malnutrition gives rise to diseases which
hinder the development of the body and likewise impede the growth and maturity
of intellect and will.
The research which has been completed so far and which you are now examining
in greater detail in this colloquium aims at identifying and treating the
diseases associated with malnutrition. At the same time, it points to the need
of adapting and improving methods of cultivation, methods which are capable of
producing food with all the elements that can ensure proper human subsistence
and the full physical and mental development of the person.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that your deliberations will encourage the
governments and peoples of the economically more advanced countries to help the
populations more severely affected by malnutrition.
8. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Catholic Church, which in the coming world Synod
of Bishops will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Second Vatican
Council, reconfirms the words which the Council Fathers addressed to the men and
women of thought and science: "Our paths could not fail to cross. Your road is
ours. Your paths are never foreign to ours. We are the friends of your vocations
as searchers, companions in your labours, admirers of your successes, and, if
necessary, consolers in your discouragement and your failures".
It is with these sentiments that I invoke the blessings of God, the Lord of
life, upon the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, upon all the members of the two
present Working Groups and upon your families.
other Papal Writings and Speeches]