By Alex Schadenberg – Chairperson, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – International
March 20, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – I had the privilege of attending and presenting to the Pontifical Academy for Life Congress, titled: “Close by the incurably sick person and the dying: scientific and ethical aspects,” from February 25 – 26.
This was my third time I have had the opportunity to attend a Congress by the Pontifical Academy for Life since 2004. These meetings attempt to bring scientific knowledge, philosophical thought and theological reflection together to move the Catholic Church toward a greater understanding of the ethical issues of our time.
This year’s congress was particularly interesting because some of the presentations seemed to differ in their premises and/or conclusions from what would be considered the current thought of the Church. This can be a good exercise within the Church, if it leads to a greater clarification of Church teaching.
What was particularly interesting was the address by Benedict XVI to the participants of the congress. Since most of the presentations were focused on scientific, philosophical or theological thought, it was great that Pope Benedict offered a more human or personal approach to the questions at hand.
Benedict sets the stage for his presentation by reminding us that death is not an end, “but indeed a new birth and a renewed existence offered by the Risen One.”
Benedict then states: “The Lord of life is present beside the Sick person as the One who lives and gives life, the One who said: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10: 10) ‘I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’ (John 11: 25), and ‘I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6: 54)”
Benedict wants us to understand that not only in death is there life, but for everyone, death brings a spiritual gift. He stated: “For the community of believers, this encounter of the dying person with the Source of Life and Love is a gift that has value for all, that enriches the communion of all the faithful. As such, it deserves the attention and participation of the community, not only of the family of close relatives but…of the whole community that was bound to the dying person.”
Benedict then makes a strong and loving pronouncement in relation to the role of the Christian community, stating, “No believer should die in loneliness and neglect.”
The Pope then quotes from the Encyclical Spe Salvi (n. 38): “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both of the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘compassion’ is a cruel and inhuman society.”
This is a serious commandment to be giving to the community of believers. The fact is that more people live and die in loneliness, abandoned by the community, than in any other period of history. Benedict connects this problem, which represents a true lack of love and charity, to the question of euthanasia, saying: “More and more lonely elderly people exist in big cities, even in situations of serious illness and close to death. In such situations, the pressure of euthanasia is felt, especially when a utilitarian vision of the person creeps in. In this regard, I take this opportunity to reaffirm once again the firm and constant ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia, in accordance with the Church’s centuries-old teaching.”
Benedict then focuses on the need for the people of faith, through their parish, organizations and possible new initiatives, to extend further our solidarity with our dying, seriously ill and marginalized elderly brothers and sisters.
The Pope said: “The Church, with her already functioning institutions and new initiatives, is called to bear a witness of active charity, especially in the critical situations of non-self-sufficient people deprived of family support, and for the seriously ill in need of palliative treatment and the appropriate religious assistance. On the one hand, the spiritual mobilization of parish and diocesan communities, and on the other, the creation or improvement of structures dependent on the Church, will be able to animate and sensitize the whole social environment, so that solidarity and charity are offered and witnessed to each suffering person and particularly to those who are close to death.”
Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging all people of faith to become a greater witness to the love of our Lord by living in the service of life. He is asking people to recognize the suffering in our world and the need to serve the dying and the marginalized frail, elderly, and chronically ill, by visiting and being with and sharing oneself with others.
If we are to hold off the pressure to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Western world we will need to create an effective alternative to killing. The Pope recognizes that the only real alternative is to love one another.
Dioceses, parishes and people of faith need to recognize the need to go out into the world and simply care for friends, family, relatives and members of their community who are dying and marginalized. We must become winesses of love by being with, listening to, and caring for others. Let’s take Benedict’s message to heart and build a Culture of Life by living the call to love one another.