Pope Francis to doctors: Assisted suicide is ‘false compassion’

Pope Francis greets an attendee during a meeting with doctors, patients and members of the Italian Association of Medical Oncology at the Vatican Sept. 2. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis told a group of Italian doctors Friday they must resist the temptation to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia, which trades the dignity of the patient for a “false compassion.”

“It is important that the doctor does not lose sight of the singularity of each patient, with his dignity and fragility. A man or a woman to accompany with conscience, with intelligence and heart, especially in the most serious situations,” the pope said Sept. 20.

“With this attitude, one can and must reject the temptation — induced also by legislative changes — to use medicine to support a possible desire for death by the patient, providing assistance to suicide or causing death directly with euthanasia.”

Euthanasia or assisted suicide are “hasty paths,” and not an expression of a person’s freedom, as they might seem, he continued, adding that to be asked to help cause the premature death of a patient is a “discarding of the patient” and “false compassion.”

Quoting the New Charter for Health Care Workers, published in 2017 by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, he said: “There is no right to arbitrarily dispose of one’s life, so that no doctor can be the executive guardian of a non-existent right.”

The pope’s audience took place with around 350 members of the Italian National Federation of Orders of Surgical Doctors and Dentists.

The president of the organization, Filippo Anelli, gave a signed message to Pope Francis talking about the “profound unease” with which Italian doctors live their profession today, “the result of a distortion of the values that sustain our society.”

“This is why the crisis that affects the profession today requires a special awareness and effort not only from doctors but also from all civil society in order to restore the right gradation of values, recognizing the citizen’s right to health and the doctor’s role as a professional who protects that right to the health of the citizen and his community,” the message states.

Pope Francis said medicine, by definition, “is service to human life, and as such it involves an essential and inalienable reference to the person in his spiritual and material integrity, in his individual and social dimension.”

It is not just about the illness, he continued, adding that it is a person with a disease, not a disease with a person. “It is with this integrally human vision that doctors are called to relate to the patient.”

“It is for the doctors to possess, together with the due technical and professional competence, a code of values and meanings with which to give meaning to the illness and to one’s work and to make every single clinical case a human encounter.”

Quoting St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium vitae, Pope Francis said: “the responsibility of health workers ‘is today enormously increased and finds its deepest inspiration and its strongest support precisely in the intrinsic and unavoidable ethical dimension of the health profession, as the ancient and ever current Hippocratic oath, according to which every doctor is asked to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.’”

By Hannah Brockhaus