By John-Henry Westen in Rome

  VATICAN CITY, February 25, 2008 ( – Today Pope Benedict XVI received the participants in a Pontifical Academy for Life-sponsored conference taking place at the Vatican.  The international congress entitled, “Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects” has some five hundred participants from all over the world.
In opening the conference Bishop Eli Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, informed participants that this is the third time the Academy has addressed the topic of euthanasia. He pointed out that the intense focus on euthanasia underscores the pressing nature of the issue.  According to Sgreccia, the results of population control, self imposed and otherwise, are being felt as the elderly are left with little or no family to give them care in their last moments.  Moreover, with medical resources tightening, as a burgeoning baby boom generation puts increasing strain on the medical system, and with a lower proportion of working population to sustain the care, the pressure for euthanasia is mounting.
  In his remarks to the participants, which overflowed the beautiful Clementine Hall, the Holy Father made similar observations as Sgreccia about the underlying reasons for the increasing pressure for euthanasia, and reiterated the “the firm and constant ethical condemnation of all forms of direct euthanasia, in keeping with the centuries-long teaching of the Church”.
“No believer”, he said, “should die alone and abandoned”.
“Every person in need,” he said, should find “the necessary support through appropriate treatments and medical procedures – identified and administered using criteria of therapeutic proportionality – while bearing in mind the moral duty to administer (on the part of doctors) and to accept (on the part of patients) those means for preserving life which, in a particular situation, may be considered as ‘ordinary’”.

  All society “is called to respect the life and dignity of the seriously ill and the dying”, he said. “Though aware of the fact that ‘it is not science that redeems man’, all society, and in particular the sectors associated with medical science, are duty bound to express the solidarity of love, and to safeguard and respect human life in every moment of its earthly development, especially when it is ill or in its terminal stages.”

  The Pontiff reiterated the Church’s distinction between ordinary and extraordinary forms of treatment, saying, “As for forms of treatment ‘with significant levels of risk or that may reasonably be judged to be ‘extraordinary’, recourse thereto may be considered as morally acceptable, but optional. Furthermore, it will always be necessary to ensure that everyone has the treatment they require, and that families tried by the sickness of one of their members receive support, especially if the sickness is serious or prolonged”.

  The pope emphasized that society has a duty to do everything in its power to ensure that every citizen is taken care of and treated with dignity, especially as they advance in age and draw near to death. “The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a poor family or a hospital bed”.

  Society, said the Pontiff, must “ensure due support to families who undertake to care in the home, sometimes for long periods, sick members who are afflicted with degenerative conditions, … or who need particularly costly assistance. … It is above all in this field that synergy between the Church and the institutions can prove particularly important in ensuring the necessary help for human life in moments of frailty”.