Characteristics of the PAL-LIFE project
The Project PAL-LIFE is part of the specific mission of the Pontifical Academy for Life—the promotion of human life in all its aspects and at every one of its stages.
In our day, those human lives that, for whatever reason, are most
characterized by weakness run the risk of falling victim to the “throwaway
culture” that is ever more prevalent.
Unfortunately, marginalization and diminishment of so many human beings
is all too frequent. All merit our
attention, but we need to recognize that weakness caused by serious illness or
old age deserves priority consideration because it is in these circumstances
that the culture of exclusion and death which pervades so many aspects of
society today finds fertile soil in which to grow. It is in these circumstances that the abandonment
of our fellow human beings finds its theoretical justification—expressed in the
phrase “right to die.”
The Pontifical Academy for Life views with deep
admiration and gratitude the palliative care movement that has grown up in the
medical profession today as an answer to the needs of a class of humanity—the
“dying”—that is clearly fragile and that, without the vigorous spirit of
solidarity that inspires the palliative care movement, would all too easily
remain subject to the risk of marginalization and exclusion.
In the palliative care movement we see that
society has a soul, alive and fruitful, that reminds us of the source of each
human being’s dignity—the dignity of both the person who suffers from illness,
and of the one who encounters that suffering person. Indeed, it is only in the solidarity of that
encounter that the person who cares for a suffering fellow human can understand
what his own dignity requires.
has pointed to palliative care as an “expression of our uniquely human need to
take care of each another, particularly to care for persons who are
suffering. Palliative care is a witness
to the fact that the human person is always precious, even if old, even if
sick. The human person, whatever his
circumstances, is always a good, for himself and for others, and is loved by
God.” (Discourse of Pope Francis to the participants in the Plenary Assembly of
the Pontifical Academy for Life, March 5, 2015).
With these words the Holy Father recalls a
fundamental truth: the human person is never an evil! He or she is always a “someone” who is to be
cared for. “Taking care” of the other is
not a social superstructure, a choice that can be made or not. It is a intrinsic demand that arises from our
very humanity. “Taking care” rather than
abandoning is a course of action that has no alternatives if humanity is to
make real progress.
The activity of the
palliative care movement is the only appropriate way to be close to those who
suffer from advanced or terminal illness.
Through their everyday work, those who offer palliative care not only
provide a worthwhile service able to fulfill with true humanity the needs of
persons who are ill and suffering, they also become witnesses to all of society
of a cultural message that gives long life, even everlasting life, to the good
that is contained in every single caring act.
The Catholic Church looks with great hope
toward the charism that inspires palliative care, recognizing the good that all
humanity can realize from such care. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Palliative care is a special form of
disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged. (Article 2279). We know, however, that practically speaking,
there are truly few who are able to receive from society the kind of
recognition and accompaniment that palliative care offers to the dying.
On the other hand, from its beginning
Christianity has been present in society through activities and institutions
that are concrete manifestations of Gospel mercy. Hospitals are certainly one example of the
Church’s commitment in this area. Even
though they are today an important feature of secular society and get a large
measure of their support from public resources, at their origin they were seen
as manifestation of Christian mercy.
Today, in the Christian-tradition West and in nations more recently
evangelized, the Catholic Church, and the other Christian confessions, own and
operate a significant percentage of the various healthcare facilities, from
urgent and emergency care for the poor to great centers of excellence for care
and medical research.
We are thus aware that in the Catholic Church,
or inspired by it, enormous material and spiritual resources constitute a great
potential for answering the need that exists, today as before, for the caring
and humanity required when dealing with those suffering advanced or terminal
This is the spirit that gave rise to the
Pal-life Proposal. It is a project that
has a clear goals but that is still just at its beginning. Much will depend on how able we are to take
on the human and social challenge posed by the fragility of persons with
advanced and terminal illness. It will
also depend on how able we are to become partners, both welcoming and generous,
of a community like that of palliative care professionals, which is fully
committed, with all its intelligence and compassion, to finding appropriate
answers to the calls of a profoundly needy humanity..
The Project will have its official opening on
March 31 and April 1, and will initially consist of a consulting study group of
fifteen experts in palliative care throughout the world. Each one of them has joined the Project with
great enthusiasm. The purpose of this
first step is to study both the current situation and the opportunities and
obstacles to the introduction and development of palliative care in the various
regions around the world.
In addition to the information that these
experts will supply, the Pontifical Academy for Life has begun an “internal”
study within the Church environment to determine how many Catholic-related care
and assistance facilities deal with terminal illnesses. The study will cover both the professional
and the cultural aspects of the situation.
It is known that the challenge of welcome and inclusion for the
terminally ill, just as with every other weak element in society, always has
cultural aspects that imply a vision of the reality and dignity of every human
life. The goals of this study is to establish
a clear starting point from which concrete palliative care initiatives can be
developed in the Catholic Church and outside it.
Our hope is that from this meeting and subsequent Project-related
initiatives we can develop not only basic palliative care capabilities, but
also a cultural understanding of illness and suffering that is able to accept
death with tranquillity and to care for the dying with love.