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November 12, 1987

To participants in congress of apostolate for health-care workers

Humanizing medicine means promoting and defending life

On Thursday evening, 12 November 1987 in the Synod Hall of the Vatican, the Holy Father met participants in the international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of Health Care Workers.

The conference had as its theme "The Humanization of Medicine". The pope addressed the participants as follows:

1.Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with deep joy that I extend my deferential greeting to you as you participate in the international conference on the humanization of medicine sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of Health-Care Workers. This is a fundamental theme, one whose importance is being recognized more and more today.

2.Life is a gift of God. Man is not its lord, but rather its responsible administrator. "It is the Creator of the world who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things." (cf. 2 Mac 7:23). In all the expressions of his life, then, man belongs to God, to whom he must respond (Is this not perhaps the etymological root of the term "responsible"?) concerning the use he has made of this great gift.

It is from this that the nobility of medicine, which is by definition service to human life, derives. As such, it involves an essential and inalienable reference to man as a spiritual and material whole and his individual and social dimensions; medicine is at the service of the person, of the whole person, of every person.

Of this truth you are profoundly convinced, following the lines of a most ancient tradition having its roots in the first intuitions of Hippocrates. However, it is precisely this conviction which gives rise to your concerns as scholars, scientists and researchers due to the snares to which modern medicine is exposed, In fact, "the new frontiers…opened by the progress of science and by its possible technical and therapeutic applications touch the most delicate spheres of life at its very sources and in its most profound meaning" (Dolentium Hominum, 3) It is partly these concerns which have moved you to gather for this conference, as you desire to contribute your expertise in the formation of strategies to safeguard more effectively the fundamental gift of life and promote it more consistently.

Moving from the general to the particular, the questions dealt with in the conference wisely begin with a reflection on life and the right to life; hence with man and health, and, finally, with man and medicine. Discourse about man and health, about man and medicine, in fact presupposes a clear conception of life, of the right to it and its quality.

Promote integral development

3. Since it is obviously impossible for me to consider all the many particular questions addressed by your conference, I wish to offer some reflections on the central theme, around which all the other questions revolve; the theme, that is, of the humanization of medicine. It reaches the very heart of the right-duty to defend and promote life and its dignity. There can in fact be no authentic promotion of human life without a growing humanization of medicine, one which extends beyond merely scientific and technological contributions. In fact, "science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. Being ordered to man, who initiates and develops them, they draw from the person and his moral values the indication of their purpose and the awareness of their limits."(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation ,2)

Your conference aims to place within an organic framework the various problems regarding the notion of life and the right to life, the questions posed by the great development of pharmacology, the expectations aroused by the urgent need to safeguard the environment, the tensions connected with the growing imbalances between industrialized nations and developing nations, the prospects for a political strategy defending and promoting human life on earth.

This is a vast and stimulating assortment of questions, which I urge you to examine in depth. I wish to point out, however, that the necessary criterion would be lacking if the various questions were treated without an adequate anthropological vision capable of guiding the discussion towards true progress. In fact there are forms of scientific advance which do not coincide with the authentic good of man; in such cases scientific progress becomes a form of human regression which is even be the prelude to tragic consequences. It is precisely in consideration of this fact tat one must emphasize the axiom that not everything which is technically possible is morally and ethically acceptable.

4.A truly humanized practice of medicine cannot remain indifferent in the face of scientific research seen as an end in itself, ignoring the requirements of an authentic service to man. The study of life, too, must be translated into service to life. The questions raised by experimentation, by the relation between population and resources, by irreversible illness, have become more grave as technological progress has made available solutions and strategies that offend the dignity of human life and of the human person.

In order to stand firm against suggestions stemming from such an outlook, it is indispensable to possess adequate anthropological points of reference: the elaboration of these can be much enhanced by interdisciplinary dialogue and, in a particular way, by reflection on the data of Christian Revelation.

The history of these two thousand years of the new era shows what a contribution can be made to a true humanization of medicine by the inspiration of the Christian faith. This faith, by bringing us to see in every person a brother or sister, bases service to life on the universal commandment of love. This was well understood by Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, whom I had the joy of declaring a saint last 25 October. He said: "Not science, but charity has transformed the world…" University professor, head physician and researcher, Dr. Moscati had direct experience of the primacy of love in service to life.

The commandment of love has its roots in the natural law of human solidarity and draws vitality from the very Love which is God. Not only this, but in the effort to promote life, love also becomes the constructive meeting point with those who, due to mysterious circumstances, have not received or understood the message of Jesus. Even a superficial look at the history of medicine allows us to note a singular continuity between human and Christian values, thanks to whose interaction there has been formed that rich patrimony of civilization and progress which is the pride of your profession.

5. Insamuch as it draws near to man in the crucial moment of suffering, when he acutely perceives the need to safeguard his health, medicine must make of those who exercise it, at all levels, experts of great human sensitivity. This is true, obviously, in the context of the individual relationship, where humanization means, among other things, openness to all that leads to the understanding of man… his interiority, his world, his psychology, his culture. The humanization of this relationship involves a simultaneous giving and receiving, that is, the creation of that communion which is total participation. Only in this way does service also become witness and being service to life, transform itself into an incentive to love life, to grasp its truest and deepest meaning in all of its manifestations.

This however, is true on the social level as well; here the need for humanization is translated into the direct effort of all health-care workers, each in his own sphere of competence, to promote suitable conditions for health, to improve inadequate structures, to eliminate the causes of so many illnesses, to foster the just distribution of health-care resources, to see to it that health care programs throughout the world have only the good of the human person as their end.

6. The humanization of medicine answers an obligation of justice, one which can never be met by completely delegating it to others but which requires the efforts of all involved. The field of operation is immense; it extends from health care education to the promotion of greater sensitivity in public authorities; from direct involvement in one's work environment to those forms of cooperation, local, national and international, which are made possible by the existence of many organizations and associations that have as part of their statutory purpose the call to render medicine ever more human.

The Church, which considers solicitude for those who suffer an integral part of her mission (Dolentium Hominum, 1) and which sees man as her "own way" (Salvifici Doloris, 3) is close, as the recent Synod has rightly pointed out and emphasized, to the laity who personally or in associations, work for a growing humanization of medicine. Through individuals and institutions, she is directly involved in the world of suffering and of health with the enlightened and generous collaboration of health care workers. Whence emerges, in fact, a special and decisive challenge in our day; we cannot remain passive in the face of a continuing situation in which entire populations suffer from ills that medical science is now able to treat and overcome.

To humanize medicine is to accept this challenge and to work generously for the construction of a world in which every human being is guaranteed the means necessary for the full appreciation and use of the fundamental gift of life, which has its origin and it ultimate end in God "who lovest the living"(Wis 11:26).

In exhorting you to do everything in your power to respond to this noble task. I invoke upon you and your work the illuminating and consoling blessing of Almighty God.

1.Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with deep joy that I extend my deferential greeting to you as you participate in the international conference on the humanization of medicine sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of Health-Care Workers. This is a fundamental theme, one whose importance is being recognized more and more today.

2.Life is a gift of God. Man is not its lord, but rather its responsible administrator. "It is the Creator of the world who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things." (cf. 2 Mac 7:23). In all the expressions of his life, then, man belongs to God, to whom he must respond (Is this not perhaps the etymological root of the term "responsible"?) concerning the use he has made of this great gift.

It is from this that the nobility of medicine, which is by definition service to human life, derives. As such, it involves an essential and inalienable reference to man as a spiritual and material whole and his individual and social dimensions; medicine is at the service of the person, of the whole person, of every person.

Of this truth you are profoundly convinced, following the lines of a most ancient tradition having its roots in the first intuitions of Hippocrates. However, it is precisely this conviction which gives rise to your concerns as scholars, scientists and researchers due to the snares to which modern medicine is exposed, In fact, "the new frontiers…opened by the progress of science and by its possible technical and therapeutic applications touch the most delicate spheres of life at its very sources and in its most profound meaning" (Dolentium Hominum, 3) It is partly these concerns which have moved you to gather for this conference, as you desire to contribute your expertise in the formation of strategies to safeguard more effectively the fundamental gift of life and promote it more consistently.

Moving from the general to the particular, the questions dealt with in the conference wisely begin with a reflection on life and the right to life; hence with man and health, and, finally, with man and medicine. Discourse about man and health, about man and medicine, in fact presupposes a clear conception of life, of the right to it and its quality.

Promote integral development

3. Since it is obviously impossible for me to consider all the many particular questions addressed by your conference, I wish to offer some reflections on the central theme, around which all the other questions revolve; the theme, that is, of the humanization of medicine. It reaches the very heart of the right-duty to defend and promote life and its dignity. There can in fact be no authentic promotion of human life without a growing humanization of medicine, one which extends beyond merely scientific and technological contributions. In fact, "science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. Being ordered to man, who initiates and develops them, they draw from the person and his moral values the indication of their purpose and the awareness of their limits."(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation ,2)

Your conference aims to place within an organic framework the various problems regarding the notion of life and the right to life, the questions posed by the great development of pharmacology, the expectations aroused by the urgent need to safeguard the environment, the tensions connected with the growing imbalances between industrialized nations and developing nations, the prospects for a political strategy defending and promoting human life on earth.

This is a vast and stimulating assortment of questions, which I urge you to examine in depth. I wish to point out, however, that the necessary criterion would be lacking if the various questions were treated without an adequate anthropological vision capable of guiding the discussion towards true progress. In fact there are forms of scientific advance which do not coincide with the authentic good of man; in such cases scientific progress becomes a form of human regression which is even be the prelude to tragic consequences. It is precisely in consideration of this fact tat one must emphasize the axiom that not everything which is technically possible is morally and ethically acceptable.

4.A truly humanized practice of medicine cannot remain indifferent in the face of scientific research seen as an end in itself, ignoring the requirements of an authentic service to man. The study of life, too, must be translated into service to life. The questions raised by experimentation, by the relation between population and resources, by irreversible illness, have become more grave as technological progress has made available solutions and strategies that offend the dignity of human life and of the human person.

In order to stand firm against suggestions stemming from such an outlook, it is indispensable to possess adequate anthropological points of reference: the elaboration of these can be much enhanced by interdisciplinary dialogue and, in a particular way, by reflection on the data of Christian Revelation.

The history of these two thousand years of the new era shows what a contribution can be made to a true humanization of medicine by the inspiration of the Christian faith. This faith, by bringing us to see in every person a brother or sister, bases service to life on the universal commandment of love. This was well understood by Dr. Giuseppe Moscati, whom I had the joy of declaring a saint last 25 October. He said: "Not science, but charity has transformed the world…" University professor, head physician and researcher, Dr. Moscati had direct experience of the primacy of love in service to life.

The commandment of love has its roots in the natural law of human solidarity and draws vitality from the very Love which is God. Not only this, but in the effort to promote life, love also becomes the constructive meeting point with those who, due to mysterious circumstances, have not received or understood the message of Jesus. Even a superficial look at the history of medicine allows us to note a singular continuity between human and Christian values, thanks to whose interaction there has been formed that rich patrimony of civilization and progress which is the pride of your profession.

5. Insamuch as it draws near to man in the crucial moment of suffering, when he acutely perceives the need to safeguard his health, medicine must make of those who exercise it, at all levels, experts of great human sensitivity. This is true, obviously, in the context of the individual relationship, where humanization means, among other things, openness to all that leads to the understanding of man… his interiority, his world, his psychology, his culture. The humanization of this relationship involves a simultaneous giving and receiving, that is, the creation of that communion which is total participation. Only in this way does service also become witness and being service to life, transform itself into an incentive to love life, to grasp its truest and deepest meaning in all of its manifestations.

This however, is true on the social level as well; here the need for humanization is translated into the direct effort of all health-care workers, each in his own sphere of competence, to promote suitable conditions for health, to improve inadequate structures, to eliminate the causes of so many illnesses, to foster the just distribution of health-care resources, to see to it that health care programs throughout the world have only the good of the human person as their end.

6. The humanization of medicine answers an obligation of justice, one which can never be met by completely delegating it to others but which requires the efforts of all involved. The field of operation is immense; it extends from health care education to the promotion of greater sensitivity in public authorities; from direct involvement in one's work environment to those forms of cooperation, local, national and international, which are made possible by the existence of many organizations and associations that have as part of their statutory purpose the call to render medicine ever more human.

The Church, which considers solicitude for those who suffer an integral part of her mission (Dolentium Hominum, 1) and which sees man as her "own way" (Salvifici Doloris, 3) is close, as the recent Synod has rightly pointed out and emphasized, to the laity who personally or in associations, work for a growing humanization of medicine. Through individuals and institutions, she is directly involved in the world of suffering and of health with the enlightened and generous collaboration of health care workers. Whence emerges, in fact, a special and decisive challenge in our day; we cannot remain passive in the face of a continuing situation in which entire populations suffer from ills that medical science is now able to treat and overcome.

To humanize medicine is to accept this challenge and to work generously for the construction of a world in which every human being is guaranteed the means necessary for the full appreciation and use of the fundamental gift of life, which has its origin and it ultimate end in God "who lovest the living"(Wis 11:26).

In exhorting you to do everything in your power to respond to this noble task. I invoke upon you and your work the illuminating and consoling blessing of Almighty God.

Priests for Life
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