Pope Francis: In healthcare, we are responsible to the most vulnerable
– When it comes to healthcare and using our resources wisely, we have a responsibility to protect and take care of the most vulnerable in society, especially the elderly, Pope Francis told members of the Italian bishops’ conference Friday.
“To optimize resources means to use them in an ethical and responsible manner and not to penalize the most fragile,” he said Feb. 10.
“It is necessary to be vigilant, especially when patients are elderly with a heavily compromised health, if they are suffering from serious and costly diseases for their care or are particularly difficult, such as psychiatric patients,” he continued.
Pope Francis spoke to the Charity and Health Commission of the Italian Bishops’ Conference on the eve of the 25th World Day of the Sick and the 20th anniversary of the National Office for Pastoral Healthcare. The audience took place as a bill is currently being considered in Italy that would effectively legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, requiring doctors to act on the advanced statements of their patients in this regard, and prohibiting them from conscientious objection.
There have been years marked by strong “social and cultural changes,” the Pope noted, “and today we can see a situation with light and shadow.”
“Together with lights, though, there are some shadows that threaten to exacerbate the experience of our sick brothers and sisters,” he said. The most important thing is that the dignity of the sick person is always at the center of all healthcare, because when it is not, he said, the attitudes caused can lead people “to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. And this is very serious!”
Francis condemned, for example, business models of healthcare which, “instead of optimizing the available resources,” instead consider most people to be a type of “human waste.” When money is the guiding principle of policies in healthcare and administrative decisions, there can be a temptation to lose the protections to the right to healthcare, such as that “enshrined in the Italian Constitution,” he said.
Rather, “the growing health poverty among the poorest segments of the population, due precisely to the difficulty of access to care,” he said, should “not leave anyone indifferent and multiply the efforts of all because the rights of the most vulnerable are protected.”
Pope Francis praised the many health institutions in Italy founded on Christian principles, expressing his appreciation for the good that they have accomplished and encouraging them to continue to do even more to help the poor and vulnerable.
“In the present context, where the answer to the question of the most fragile health is becoming more difficult, do not even hesitate to rethink your works of charity to offer a sign of God’s mercy to the poor that, with confidence and hope, knock on the doors of your structures,” he said. One of St. John Paul II’s goals for the World Day of the Sick, “in addition to promoting the culture of life,” Francis said, was also to involve dioceses, Christian communities, religious, and families in understanding the importance of pastoral healthcare.
There are many patients in hospitals, of course, but there are many more people in their homes and frequently alone, he pointed out.
“I hope that are visited frequently, so they do not feel excluded from the community and they can experience, because of the proximity of one who meets them, the presence of Christ which passes now in the midst of the sick in body and spirit.”
He praised the advancements in scientific research which have found cures for some diseases, or eradicated them altogether, while noting that we can’t forget also the more rare and neglected diseases, which are not always “given due attention, with the risk of giving rise to further suffering,” he said. Quoting from his message for this year’s World Day of the Sick, the Pope said, “in the first place is the inviolable dignity of every human person from the moment of conception until its last breath.”
“We praise the Lord for the many health professionals with the knowledge and belief that they live their work as a mission, ministers of life and participate in the effusive love of God the Creator,” he said. “Their hands touch every day the suffering flesh of Christ, and this is a great honor and a serious responsibility.”
“Likewise, we welcome the presence of many volunteers who, with generosity and competence, are working to alleviate and humanize the long and difficult days of so many sick and lonely elderly people, especially the poor and needy.” (Hannah Brockhaus/CNA)