As we reported in October of 2017, a new John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family (JAHLF) has been founded in order to continue the ethical work of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL) as well as of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, both of which have been gravely reformed in the recent past by Pope Francis. As we also reported, in November of last year, the Pontifical Academy for Life hosted a conference in which promoters of euthanasia were invited to speak.
Today, the newly founded morally orthodox academy (of which I am gratefully honored to be a member of the Advisory Board), has published its first official statement (PDF link), which critically examines this recent November 2017 PAL conference, and which reiterates the sound Catholic doctrine with regard to questions such as palliative care, end-of-life care, and euthanasia.
Among the members of the Board of this new academy are Professor Josef Seifert (President), Christine Vollmer (Vice-President), as well as Professor Roberto de Mattei, Mercedes Wilson, Dr. Thomas Ward, Dr. Philippe Schepens, Virginia Coda Nunziante, and John-Henry Westen. Several members of the new board had been previously dismissed by Pope Francis from the Pontifical Academy for Life. Professor de Mattei himself just recently discussed similar matters in an independent article.
The statement, which is entitled: “John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family Comments on the Meeting of the World Medical Association, European Region, on End-of-Life Questions, Hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life, November 16-17th 2017,” starts out with the following words:
The John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family has followed with interest the recent meeting of the World Medical Association, European Region, on End-of-Life Questions, held at Vatican premises, hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), November 16-17th 2017. Many Catholics looked with concern on such a meeting, since several speakers defended the legalization of “euthanasia” and physician-assisted suicide. According to the words of Archbishop Paglia, who hosted the event, this meeting was intended to be held in an “academically neutral” spirit, in that it would be carried out as a “shared search for a common ground on which even differing opinions can find points of agreement about the truth of the human being” .
The Academy shows concern about this sort of “neutral approach,” when it says:
In what follows, we wish to express some serious problems we see in this “neutral approach” of the PAV. In its original form as founded by St. Pope John Paul II, the PAV required its members to take an oath to always express and defend, according to their respective profession (including theoretical writings), the value of each human life, as well as the truth of the Gospel of Life and of the Church’s teaching on Human Life.
What is important is that the JAHLF statement makes some strong criticism of the speaker at the PAL conference who was supposed to present the “Catholic perspective”:
The presentation of “The Catholic perspective”, delivered by Marie-Jo Thiel, raised serious concerns on the following grounds:
(a) Her apparent endorsement of “deep and continuous sedation” on demand (already legal in France), is extremely objectionable. For in the first place, “deep and continuous sedation” can be a euphemism for active euthanasia, because narcotics can provoke respiratory arrest, if the limits of maximal dosage and the need for intervals are not observed. Besides, if, as happens in most cases of terminal sedation, simultaneously nutrition-hydration is withdrawn, despite the fact that the latter still benefits the body for the preservation of human life, the endorsement of “deep and continuous (terminal) sedation” is an endorsement of direct euthanasia (and hence, of murder).
As can be seen in this short paragraph, JAHLF shows its moral attentiveness to the danger of using methods that would actively shorten a person’s life. Today, we are dealing with too many euphemisms that cover up the fact that, in many cases in today’s medical culture, a culture of death is being promoted, rather than a culture of life. The matter of withdrawal of nutrition-hydration is an important aspect, since a dehydrated person will eventually die and will suffer greatly in the process. So many people in the U.S. have now had to die such cruel deaths. (As JAHLF points out in the footnote to the last paragraph, there are, however, cases, where one cannot add more fluids to a dying person’s body, if that would increase, for example, edema. Thus, there has to be sufficient fluids to be able to keep the veins open.)
In the following, the JAHLF paper discusses a wide range of topics related to the November 2017 PAL conference, such as:
- May a doctor have a conscientious objection to medical guidelines?
- On the Moral Authority (or lack thereof) of medical sciences
- On the Rights of a Physician with an ethical compass
- The importance of a universal and perennial character of medical ethics
- Is palliative care an alternative to assisted suicide and euthanasia?
After a short summary of the main topics that had been discussed at the November PAL conference, the JAHLF statement continues:
The final session, the plenary panel discussion, included five panelists, of whom three (Gilli, Héman, Wiesing) are favorable to euthanasia, or at least called for “respect for autonomy” with respect to physician-assisted suicide.
Based on the presentations of the majority of speakers, obviously the meeting hosted by the PAV should give us pause and is cause for profound concern. It is troubling that, just at a time when Catholic faithful most need firm and clear directions in order to resist the prevailing secular trends, the Holy See could have hosted a meeting in which opinions, which overtly contradict Catholic teaching, were treated as worthy opinions and even placed on the same level as those which uphold the Church’s teaching. In this regard, it is also troubling that the central ethical and theological truths concerning death, dying, and suffering were markedly underrepresented. [emphasis added]
The authors of the paper present their objections by saying that “the material presented in the meeting could easily cause great confusion among health care professionals, jurists, and politicians, as well as among the clergy and lay faithful.”
In the following, we will present some of the trenchant and important statements made in the more than 20-page-long document, and invite our readers to read the text in full. It is a document of importance to all of us, since we all have or will have loved ones who are either elderly, sick, or are suffering a chronic condition. We all need to educate ourselves so as not to be overrun by the medical “culture of death” which has been fostered by a pharmaceutical-political-insurance complex for years. Better we prepare ourselves now, before we find ourselves in the middle of a difficult health situation without clear formative principles to apply. Here now are some highlights of the statement:
- “Each person, as a rational and free subject, has access to “natural” truths (truths which can be attained by the use of reason [the intellect] alone), as well as the capacity to receive revealed religious truth and to accept it in faith; he ought to recognize these truths of both reason and faith and follow them in his actions, even when the political or legal authority, or the consensus of a group of physicians to which he belongs, contradicts them. This is the very foundation for the right to conscientious objection.”
- “Today, euthanasia is, legally speaking, an option available in many democratic countries. St. Augustine once said that when democracy is severed from truth and justice, it degenerates into a gang of bandits. Such is the case today when euthanasia is considered acceptable just because it is in accord with the reigning law and respect for autonomy. As such, euthanasia amounts to ‘consented murder,’ however.”
- “In end-of-life situations, the patient in question is a vulnerable person. Invoking the principle of ‘autonomy’ to allow for the taking of his own life by another party amounts to ignoring the undue pressures to which a poor person is subjected during the weakest, saddest, and scariest time of his life.”
- “Thus, the real issue in the promotion of euthanasia is actually this: is man the measure of everything? Or, rather, is man the servant of God? As God’s creature, it is not man’s prerogative to impose, on his own accord, death on others or on himself, but rather he is to accept death only when it comes to him from without and when it is, ultimately, sent from God.”
- “Today, there are four meanings to palliative care: the first three refer to positive and good forms of care, while the fourth corresponds to perverted forms of so-called care which, unfortunately, are becoming the prevailing practice in many palliative care centers. [….] Good palliative care as pain-relief and stress-relief for all patients including the seriously ill. In this first sense, palliative care is an integral part of medicine at all times. [….] Palliative care specifically for incurable or terminally ill patients (end of life and hospice care). In this second sense, palliative medicine has been part of medicine since its beginning and corresponds to one of medicine’s seven ends (goals and goods medicine ought to serve): pain-relief and care of patients close to death, or of those whose health and life medicine cannot preserve or restore. [….] Multidisciplinary palliative care in a Christian spirit. This kind of medical care received the name “palliative care.” [….] Also this Christian, multi-disciplinary “palliative care” has, as such, nothing to do with the “culture of death. [….] Perversion and perverted forms of “palliative care” in contradiction to the culture of life: “Palliative care” has often and in many places become an instrument of overt or covert euthanasia, or at least a distinct step toward euthanasia. Acting under the guise of “patient autonomy,” or setting “goals of care,” patients are strongly encouraged to execute advance directives which authorize withholding of medical treatment and even of nutrition and hydration.” [emphasis added]
- “In the worst scenario, first the patient is removed from nutrition and hydration prematurely in spite of the fact that his body still benefits from the nutrition-hydration support. Since the patient would experience excruciating pain caused by starvation and dehydration, the expeditious solution is to sedate him heavily. In other words, the patient is put to sleep.”
- “At this point, it is worthwhile to reproduce the clarifications of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the issues of nutrition and hydration, which must never be refused or withdrawn, as long as they serve, and are necessary conditions of, human life.”
- “Neglecting basic medical care, ‘palliative care’ turns into a kind of ‘euthanasia through neglect’, instead of serving the life and health of patients.”
- “Thus, as indicated in a number of studies, the current practice of palliative medicine in an overwhelming number of cases is offending against the duty of medicine to protect and preserve human life. As such, it fails to respond adequately to the dignity and preciousness of every human life.”
- “From a Christian spiritual perspective, the practice of terminal sedation is also wrong, even when it has nothing to do with euthanasia or would not shorten human life by any second, because, by taking consciousness away, terminal sedation deprives patients of the dignity to live in a properly human and dignified manner the last days of their earthly lives as they approach death. Imposing terminal deep sedation on human persons, with the intention for them to lapse into unconsciousness until death, in order to spare them anxiety and pain, is never permitted.”
In light of these many very helpful comments and specific guidelines, the JAHLF statement also warns of the danger that the Pontifical Academy for Life now appears to be becoming entrenched with those groups which interpret palliative care in an unethical way. The JAHLF statement says:
On the basis of their careful studies, it appears that the new PAV [Pontifical Academy for Life] is at least running the risk of serving the euthanasia movement rather than defending human life in all its stages. The new PAV is focused on globalizing international palliative care by working with the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) headquartered in Houston and with the World Health Organization (WHO). [emphasis added]
JAHLF thus feels duty-bound to “remind the PAV of the well-known fact that, as both WHO and IAHPC interpret it, palliative medicine is frequently the vehicle chosen to institutionalize fundamental changes in healthcare that reflect a new philosophy where the value of human life is to be judged according to its quality rather than by its intrinsic sacredness.”
As an example for this dangerous development within the Pontifical Academy for Life, the JAHLF statement points to an upcoming February 2018 PAL event which plans to deal with palliative care matters, and is entitled: “Palliative Care: Everywhere and by Everyone” This workshop can be seen “as a signal that the ‘Third Path Leaders’ who are members of the new PAV are working in the direction of reshaping the PAV to become covertly a defender of euthanasia.” Concretely, JAHLF points to one of the speakers at that upcoming event:
Dr. Kathy Foley, who is to speak during the first morning session of the workshop on “Palliative Care Improves Medicine,”was in charge of the Soros-funded Project on Death in America for nine years, spending over $45 million to set the stage for societal changes to continue for decades. Dr. Foley apparently does not believe that physician assisted suicide is inherently wrong.
The JAHLF statement keeps in mind the Catholic perspective on the process of dying which is the most important moment in life: the moment of decision where our soul will spend eternity. Suffering itself has a meaning and a deep value in the Catholic Faith. Thus JAHLF has a memorable and beautiful final reflection to offer to us, also in light of the earlier criticism of deep sedation:
Would it not have been blasphemous if someone would have proposed to administer terminal sedation to Jesus on the Cross, as if a pain-free death would be the greatest good, and the immense value of our redemption that required conscious and freely accepted suffering would be of no worth? [emphasis added]
Part of the dying process is to say good-bye to loved ones, ask them for forgiveness for past sins and mistakes, and, most importantly, to receive the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and the Viaticum, if possible. May we thus all live and die supernaturally alive in Sanctifying Grace.