16 February 2022
Life

"Life is a right, not death"

A reflection by the Family and Life area of our Dicastery
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We publish a reflection by the Family and Life area of our Dicastery on the inviolable value of human life in relation to the end-of-life situations, starting from the most recent Magisterium of Pope Francis.

"I will demand an account of man's life from man, from each of his brothers" (Gen 9:5). The life of each of us is a question that concerns everyone: a question that cannot be evaded because it is posed by God himself in the covenant of alliance with man. To take care, to have at heart the life of those around us is not the choice of a few, but the task of each one, the common responsibility with which we must reckon in the society of men and, in the end, before the Mystery from which we come and to which we are destined.

We entered the world through a parental family that first took care of us, but we remain in the world in a "social family" in which each of us is father and mother, brother and sister in daily life. A concrete life that is a sharing of physical spaces, relationships, affections, friendship, thoughts, projects and interests. Care is a requirement for the sharing of life and the sharing of life comes from the care we have of it. Without caring for our own life and the life of others, only strangeness remains: the miserable condition of being reciprocally "foreigners".

To be born and to die as "strangers to life" is the saddest thing man can experience on earth. The first right of citizenship is the right to "human citizenship", to participate in the community of men and women who recognize each other's life as a good for themselves and for all to be preserved, promoted and protected. And a recognized and shared good is always an inalienable right.

Death is part of earthly life and the door to eternal life. If life in time is common to us, life in eternity is no stranger to us. Taking care of the last stretch of road on earth, the one that brings us closer to the entrance into the next life, is a duty towards ourselves and towards others. A common duty that stems from the first of the common goods that is life.

Recently, Pope Francis recalled that "life is a right, not death, which must be welcomed, not administered. And this ethical principle concerns everyone, not only Christians or believers" (General Audience, February 9, 2022). It is not a question of claiming in society and among legal systems the space for a moral norm that has its foundation in the Word of God and has been unceasingly affirmed in the history of the Church, but of recognizing an ethical evidence accessible to practical reason, which perceives the good of the person's life as a common good, always. The "charter of human citizenship" - engraved in the civil conscience of all, believers and non-believers alike - contemplates the acceptance of one's own and other people's death, but excludes that it can in any way be provoked, accelerated or prolonged.

Francis' words recall those of his predecessor St. John Paul II, who wrote: “The issue of life and its defence and promotion is not a concern of Christians alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone.” (Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, n. 101).

If the path of "palliative care" appears to be a good and desirable solution to relieve from pain the lives of the sick who cannot be cured with the current therapeutic protocols or of those who see the end of their earthly life approaching, it is necessary to resolve a misunderstanding, which risks conveying through the help to die peacefully a slide towards the "administration of death". It is again the Holy Father who emphasizes this danger. "That phrase of God's faithful people, of simple people: 'Let him die in peace,' 'help him to die in peace': what wisdom! [...] However, we must be careful not to confuse this help with unacceptable drifts that lead to killing. We must accompany to death, but not provoke death or help any form of suicide" (General Audience, February 9, 2022).

Medically assisted suicide and euthanasia are not forms of social solidarity or Christian charity, and their promotion does not constitute a spread of the culture of health care or human piety. There are other paths of medicine for the incurable and of being close to the suffering and the dying. Such as the one that comes from Jerusalem down to Jericho, travelled by the Samaritan who took care of the wounded man, not abandoning him to his destiny of death, but standing beside him and soothing the pain of his wounds as best he could. You can always accompany someone towards the ultimate goal of their life, with discretion and love, as so many families, friends, doctors and nurses have been able to do in the past and continue to do today. Without instruments of death, but with the science and wisdom of life.