April 4, 1988
TO CONGRESS ON PERINATAL MEDICINE
There is no moral justification for euthanasia
On Thursday, 14 April, the Holy Father received in
audience the participants in the eleventh European Congress of Perinatal
Medicine and addressed them as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am happy to meet you on the occasion of the XI European Congress on
Perinatal Medicine. I express to you my greetings which I extend with a deep
sense of appreciation to the organizers and spokesmen of the
Your presence, ladies and gentlemen, reminds me of the scientific and
therapeutic commitment which has characterized your particular branch of
medicine during these last decades. Perinatal medicine is concerned with the
specialized and persevering effort to save, protect and promote the life and
health of the unborn and newborn child and, at the same time, the life and
health of the mother. Your branch of medicine is completely imbued with this
ethos in favor or nascent life; it was this finality that has been responsible
for the scientific progress made in it and for the improvement in the quality of
prenatal and neonatal care.
2. The broad program of your international congress makes evident, even to
the nonprofessional, the moral importance, scientific value and encouraging
results of your labor. My thoughts now turn to all those babies whom you
have brought to life, notwithstanding the difficulties of a difficult gestation,
presenting them to the eyes and embrace of their anxiously awaiting parents and
To you I express my thanks together with those who have been delighted at the
birth of these new lives which they have received with deep and ever new
affection from your expert and helpful hands.
I wish to tell you that this work at the service of life and maternity speaks
of itself before the Creator and draws down his blessing upon you, your
families, and your work.
I also wish to be the spokesman of the voice of the Church, Mother and
Teacher to encourage you to preserve your practice and medical art inviolate and
intact from certain social and ideological pressures, from the temptations of
human weakness and from the abuses of innovative technologies, so that your
medical ethos itself, which is fostered by a long tradition of humanity,
and your consciences may be ever in conformity with the moral norm and the
paternal Will of the Creator.
3. It is well known, alas! that into this very delicate phase of the
existence of the unborn child there has crept the abominable temptation to
terminate the innocent life, especially when it appears to be imperfect and not
completely healthy, and sometimes even for reasons still more illogical and, at
any rate, never justifying.
Timely, therefore, is the confirmation repeated in the recent Instruction of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Donum Vitae:
"The human being is to be respected, as a person, from the very first moment of
its existence" (P. 1, .n. 1). It is the teaching of the Council which states:
"Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception:
abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).
This is the Church's constant teaching and practice.
The Instruction quoted above offers moreover valuable indications concerning
the conditions required for the lawfulness of prenatal diagnosis and for
therapeutic interventions on embryos and fetuses before their birth, while
it explicitly recalls the moral prohibition of experimentation on fetuses and
The degree of respect for nascent life in all its phases of development in
the mother's womb is the premise of that respect which should follow in the
neonatal stage also and especially as regards the seriously premature and
the newborn suffering from malformation. It is
the logic of death, innate in the legitimization of abortion, which in some
places today moves some to ask for the legalization of neonatal euthanasia
and to begin the practice of it in the case of fetuses with a disability and of
those whose neonatal existence, because of their premature birth, appears, even
when possible, to be faced with certain difficulties and risks.
4. Some claim a presumed "right to a healthy child" and they regard the
so-called "quality of life" as an overriding criterion for the acceptance of
It must clearly be reaffirmed that every life is sacred and that a possible
deformity can never justify a death sentence, not even when it is the parents
themselves, in the throes of emotion and disappointed in their expectations, who
request euthanasia by means of suspension or treatment and nourishment.
Quality of life must be sought, in so far as it is possible, by proportionate
and appropriate treatment, but it presupposes life and the right to life for
everyone, without discrimination and abandonment.
The very history of your branch of medicine, versatile and admirable for its
resource and progress, is opposed to acquiescence in programs of death such as
abortion and neonatal euthanasia.
Those children who pass through your hands and go out from the cradles of
your nurseries and hospital wards are the very ones who will bless you together
with their parents. Moreover, you will be blessed especially by the Lord Jesus,
the Word made flesh, who voluntarily offered himself in sacrifice for mankind,
and rose on the third day to bring life and resurrection to all humanity.
In his Name, and as a pledge of this glory and a sign of his approval for all
you are doing and will do and teach in the defense of nascent life, I impart to
you my blessing while renewing my wish of pence in the risen