“We can and must always care for the living, without ourselves shortening their life, but also without futilely resisting their death,” said Pope Francis.
People who are dying must be accompanied with the love of family members and the care of medical professionals, but there is no requirement that every means available must be used to prolong their lives, Pope said.
"Even if we know that we cannot always guarantee healing or a cure, we can and must always care for the living, without ourselves shortening their life, but also without futilely resisting their death," the pope said in a message to the European members of the World Medical Association.
"This approach is reflected in palliative care, which is proving most important in our culture, as it opposes what makes death most terrifying and unwelcome: pain and loneliness," the pope said.
The European members of the medical association were meeting at the Vatican on 16 - 17 November for a discussion with the Pontifical Academy for Life on end-of-life care.
Pope Francis' was talking about determining what level of medical intervention is most appropriate when a person is dying.
A variety of factors must be taken into account when determining what medical interventions to use and for how long with a person approaching the end of his or her earthly life, Pope said. For those with resources, treatments are available that "have powerful effects on the body, yet at times do not serve the integral good of the person."
Determining what measures amount to "therapeutic obstinacy" or "overzealous" treatment, and are therefore either optional or even harmful, requires discernment and discussion with the patient, the patient's family and the caregivers.
"From an ethical standpoint," the pope said, withholding or withdrawing excessive treatment "is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death."
In determining the best course of action in caring for a dying person, the pope said, "the mechanical application of a general rule is not sufficient."
If the patient is competent and able, he or she "has the right, obviously in dialogue with medical professionals, to evaluate a proposed treatment and to judge its actual proportionality in his or her concrete case" and to refuse the treatment "if such proportionality is judged lacking."
In either case, he said, even medical professionals must follow "the supreme commandment of responsible closeness," remaining alongside those who are dying.
"It could be said that the categorical imperative is to never abandon the sick," he said. "The anguish associated with conditions that bring us to the threshold of human mortality, and the difficulty of the decision we have to make, may tempt us to step back from the patient. Yet this is where, more than anything else, we are called to show love and closeness, recognizing the limit that we all share and showing our solidarity."
"Let each of us give love in his or her own way -- as a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a doctor or a nurse. But give it!" Pope Francis said.
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