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Among the Pope’s biggest worries: Euthanasia’s march

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Cyprien Viet - published on 06/02/23

A tireless defender of the right to life, the Pope recently voiced his alarm at the legalization of euthanasia in Portugal.

“Today I am very sad, because in the country where the Virgin appeared, a law is being passed to kill, a further addition to the long list of countries with euthanasia,”declared Pope Francis on May 13, the day of the liturgical commemoration of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the shepherds of Fatima. The day before, Portuguese parliamentarians had approved Decree 43/XV on medically-assisted death. This forced Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to promulgate it despite his personal opposition as a fervent Catholic. He had long held back the measure by every possible constitutional means.

Portugal — just a few weeks before World Youth Day in Lisbon and a second visit by Pope Francis, after his visit to Fatima in 2017 — has thus joined Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand among the states that have legalized active euthanasia. In France, a law is in preparation and is due to be debated in Parliament starting this summer. The subject was raised during President Emmanuel Macron’s last visit to the Vatican, in October 2022. Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his outspoken opposition to this legislative development, which he sees as a sign of a “culture of waste” and an exclusion of the sick and elderly from life in society.

“A failure for all”

In line with his predecessors, the Pope has never ceased to advocate the defense of life. “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all,” wrote the head of the Catholic Church on Twitter on June 5, 2019, following the suicide of a 17-year-old Dutch teenager. 

“We are called never to abandon those who are suffering, never giving up but caring and loving to restore hope,” wrote the Argentine Pontiff.

Indeed, the Catholic Church is resolutely opposed to both euthanasia (the act of knowingly causing the death of a sick person) and assisted suicide (the legal provision of the means to end one’s life).

Euthanasia, explains the New Charter for Healthcare Workers, published in 2017 by the Holy See, is an “absurd and inhumane” act, one of the “most alarming symptoms of the culture of death.” It is a “homicidal act, which no end can justify,” says the document.

Strong words in Canada

During his July 2022 visit to Canada, Pope Francis made clear his stance before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was present at his address to civil authorities at the Citadelle de Quebec. In a country that has legalized the use of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the Argentine Pontiff lamented “cancel culture.” He denounced it as “a cultural fashion” that frequently neglects individuals’ duties “with regard to the most weak and vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, migrants, the elderly, the sick, the unborn… They are the forgotten ones in ‘affluent societies’; they are the ones who, amid general indifference, are cast aside like dry leaves to be burnt,” Pope Francis said.

The Argentine Pontiff urged that “concern for the family and its rights” not “be neglected for the sake of greater productivity and individual interests.” These words have a particular meaning in Canada, where death by prescription is becoming commonplace in the context of the market economy. A funeral home in Quebec even offers medical aid in dying as a simple paid service in a specially equipped room.

He emphasized that the Catholic Church intended to promote “its rightful service to human life at every moment of its existence, from conception to natural death.” The Pope’s firmness was overshadowed, however, by the overall reason the Pope made the trip: the Church’s request for forgiveness from aboriginal populations abused in residential schools, sometimes entrusted to the Church.

“Honoring” the elderly who “need our love”

A number of countries have raised the question of legislating on assisted suicide. Recently, while reiterating his opposition to euthanasia, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Academy for Life, spoke about the complex situation in Italy. He deemed legitimate the possibility of legislation that would continue to define euthanasia as a crime but allow for it to carry no penalty under four very specific and particular conditions. Pope Francis has consistently denounced the culture of death and promoted a positive discourse in defense of life.

In October 2018 during an audience at the Vatican for the participants in a Seminar on Ethics in Health Services Management, he said, “If the [terminally ill] person feels loved, respected, and accepted, the negative shadow of euthanasia disappears or becomes nearly nonexistent, because the value of their existence is measured relative to their ability to give and receive love, and not relative to their productivity.

Beyond formal legalizations, the Pope regularly warns against the many passive or indirect forms of euthanasia that exist in certain hospitals, particularly due to economic pressure. In April 2023, speaking to the Italian Religious Association of Social-Healthcare Institutes, the Pope denounced “a hidden and progressive euthanasia” which consists in depriving an elderly person of the treatment he or she needs in order to “save money.”

We must “honor” the elderly, instead of letting them die or making them die, he also hammered home on March 5, 2015, before participants at the 21st General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, dedicated to the elderly and palliative care. 

“Those who have helped us grow must not be abandoned when they are in need of our help, our love and our tenderness,” Pope Francis implored at the time.

EuthanasiaPope Francis
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