Letter Of John Paul II To The President Of The
Pontifical Academy For Life On The Occasion Of A Study Congress On
"Quality Of Life And Ethics Of Health"
From the Vatican, 19 February 2005
To my Venerable Brother Bishop Elio Sgreccia
President of the Pontifical Academy for Life
1. I am pleased to send my cordial greetings to those who are taking part in
the Study Congress that the Pontifical Academy for Life has sponsored on the
theme: "Quality of life and ethics of health". I greet you in particular,
venerable Brother, and offer you my congratulations and good wishes on your
recent appointment as President of this Academy. I also extend my greetings to
the Chancellor, Mons. Ignacio Carrasco, to whom I also wish success in his new
office. I next address thoughts of deep gratitude to eminent Prof. Juan de Dios
Vial Correa, who has retired from the presidency of the Academy after 10 years
of generous and competent service.
Finally, a word of special thanks goes to all the Members of the Pontifical
Academy for their diligent work, especially valuable in these times, marked by
the manifestation of many problems in society related to the defence of life and
the dignity of the human person. As far as we can see, the Church in the future
will be increasingly called into question on these topics that affect the
fundamental good of every person and society. The Pontifical Academy for Life,
after 10 years of existence, must therefore continue to carry out its role of
sensitive and precious activity in support of the institutions of the Roman
Curia and of the whole Church.
2. The theme addressed at this Congress is of the greatest ethical and
cultural importance for both developed and developing societies. The phrases
"quality of life" and "promotion of health" identify one of contemporary
society's main goals, raising questions that are not devoid of ambiguity and, at
times, tragic contradictions. Thus, they require attentive discernment and a
In the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, I said regarding the ever more anxious
quest for the "quality of life" typical of the developed societies: "The
so-called "quality of life' is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic
efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect
of the more profound dimensions - interpersonal, spiritual and religious - of
existence" (n. 23). These more profound dimensions deserve further clarification
3. It is necessary first of all to recognize the essential quality that
distinguishes every human creature as that of being made in the image and
likeness of the Creator himself. The human person, constituted of body and soul
in the unity of the person - corpore et anima unus, as the Constitution Gaudium
et Spes says (n. 14) -, is called to enter into a personal dialogue with the
Creator. Man therefore possesses a dignity essentially superior to other visible
creatures, living and inanimate. As such he is called to collaborate with God in
the task of subduing the earth (cf. Gn 1: 28), and is destined in the plan of
redemption to be clothed in the dignity of a child of God.
This level of dignity and quality belongs to the ontological order and is a
constitutive part of the human being; it endures through every moment of life,
from the very moment of conception until natural death, and is brought to
complete fulfillment in the dimension of eternal life. Consequently, the human
person should be recognized and respected in any condition of health, infirmity
4. Consistent with this first, essential level of dignity, a second,
complementary level of quality of life should be recognized and promoted:
starting with the recognition of the right to life and the special dignity of
every human person, society must promote, in collaboration with the family and
other intermediate bodies, the practical conditions required for the development
of each individual's personality, harmoniously and in accordance with his or her
All the dimensions of the person, physical, psychological, spiritual and
moral, should be promoted in harmony with one another. This implies the
existence of suitable social and environmental conditions to encourage this
harmonious development. The social-environmental context, therefore,
characterizes this second level of the quality of human life which must be
recognized by all people, including those who live in developing countries.
Indeed, human beings are equal in dignity, whatever the society to which they
5. However, in our time the meaning which the expression "quality of life" is
gradually acquiring is often far from this basic interpretation, founded on a
correct philosophical and theological anthropology.
Indeed, under the impetus of the society of well-being, preference is being
given to a notion of quality of life that is both reductive and selective: it
would consist in the ability to enjoy and experience pleasure or even in the
capacity for self-awareness and participation in social life. As a result, human
beings who are not yet or are no longer able to understand and desire or those
who can no longer enjoy life as sensations and relations are denied every form
of quality of life.
6. The concept of health has also suffered a similar distortion. It is
certainly not easy to define in logical or precise terms a concept as complex
and anthropologically rich as that of health. Yet it is certain that this word
is intended to refer to all the dimensions of the person, in their harmony and
reciprocal unity: the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual and moral
The latter, the moral dimension, cannot be ignored. Every person is
responsible for his or her own health and for the health of those who have not
yet reached adulthood or can no longer look after themselves. Indeed, the person
is also duty bound to treat the environment responsibly, in such a way as to
keep it "healthy".
How many diseases are individuals often responsible for, their own and those
of others! Let us think of the spread of alcoholism, drug-addiction and AIDS.
How much life energy and how many young lives could be saved and kept healthy if
the moral responsibility of each person were better able to promote prevention
and the preservation of that precious good: health!
7. Health is not, of course, an absolute good. It is not such especially when
it is taken to be merely physical well-being, mythicized to the point of
coercing or neglecting superior goods, claiming health reasons even for the
rejection of unborn life: this is what happens with the so-called "reproductive
health". How can people fail to recognize that this is a reductive and distorted
vision of health?
Properly understood, health nevertheless continues to be one of the most
important goods for which we all have a precise responsibility, to the point
that it can be sacrificed only in order to attain superior goods, as is
sometimes demanded in the service of God, one's family, one's neighbour and the
whole of society.
Health should therefore be safeguarded and looked after as the
physical-psychological and spiritual balance of the human being. The squandering
of health as a result of various disorders is a serious ethical and social
responsibility which, moreover, is linked to the person's moral degeneration.
8. The ethical relevance of the good of health is such as to motivate a
strong commitment to its protection and treatment by society itself. It is a
duty of solidarity that excludes no one, not even those responsible for the loss
of their own health.
The ontological dignity of the person is in fact superior: it transcends his
or her erroneous or sinful forms of behaviour. Treating disease and doing one's
best to prevent it are ongoing tasks for the individual and for society,
precisely as a tribute to the dignity of the person and the importance of the
good of health.
Human beings today, in large areas of the world, are victims of the
well-being that they themselves have created. In other, even larger parts of the
world, they are victims of widespread and ravaging diseases, whose virulence
stems from poverty and the degradation of the environment.
All the forces of science and wisdom must be mobilized at the service of the
true good of the person and of society in every part of the world, in the light
of that basic criterion which is the dignity of the person, in whom is impressed
the image of God himself.
With these wishes, I entrust the work of the Congress to the intercession of
the One who welcomed the Life of the Incarnate Word into her life, while as a
sign of special affection, I impart my Blessing to you all.