“The Italian situation puts Catholics in a difficult position,” the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life tells I.MEDIA
Now that Italy could soon authorize euthanasia, the Church in Italy is looking for a strategy to oppose the trend most effectively.
One possibility is accepting an “imperfect” law that would legislate assisted suicide in order to “prevent even worse drifts,” Fr. Renzo Pegoraro, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, explained to I.MEDIA on February 10, 2022. Even as Pope Francis continually reiterates his condemnation of all forms of “assisted suicide,” the Church faces the difficulties of making the Gospel message heard.
The current situation “puts the Catholic Church in difficulty,” Fr. Pegoraro said. In Italy, the Italian Parliament is considering a proposed law on assisted suicide, and the possibility of a referendum on euthanasia is looming. The outcome of such a vote worries the Church. “There’s pressure for euthanasia, which comes from a radical movement,” says Fr. Pegoraro.
Legislation on the subject must evolve because of a 2019 decision by the Constitutional Court that decriminalized assisted suicide under certain conditions. “It opened the door to this possibility, admitting the practice. But it still lacks rules, procedures, and limits,” details the second in command of the Pontifical Academy, who warns, “Everything can become the object of abuse.”
In this dark scenario for Catholics, the Church in Italy is not remaining passive, and is trying to position itself to hope for a “better way.”
The Chancellor summarizes the two alternatives: “Either a law isn’t passed, and we don’t know what will happen with the Court’s decision; or a law will be passed that succeeds in limiting abuses, strengthening palliative care, and blocking the referendum process for euthanasia.”
Now that a window has been opened, he continues, the Church wants to prevent a “big door” from being opened. That is why it would like to encourage Parliament to establish “the best possible law”; a law that “restricts as much as possible” and avoids trivializing assisted suicide.
This strategy was proven in 2004, he explains, with the law on medically assisted reproduction. “The Church participated in the elaboration of the current law, which does not faithfully reflect the Doctrine of the Church, but admits IVF under very limited conditions,” he says, by means of which the Church avoided “chaos” at that time.
The Church proposes a solution: palliative care
In the midst of this complex Italian situation, Pope Francis offered bold commentary on the end of life, during his catechesis on Wednesday, February 9. Recalling that death must be “welcomed” and “not administered,” he condemned the “unacceptable excesses that lead to killing” and all forms of “assisted suicide.”
“Yesterday, the Pope had this context in mind, restating the basic principle,” Father Pegoraro says. “He confirmed the moral position of ‘no’ to euthanasia, ‘no’ to assisted suicide, and ‘no’ to futile persistence in medical care. It is a strong and decisive ‘yes’ to palliative care,” he said.
For his part, Dr. Carlos Centeno Cortés, a specialist in palliative care and also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, is pleased that the Pope has insisted on the importance of palliative care. “I have seen for 20 years that the Church’s discourse is always the same. Yesterday, Pope Francis spoke very clearly. Nothing has changed,” insists the Spanish doctor, who declined to comment on the Italian situation.
He acknowledges that the Pontifical Academy, to which he belongs, is often called upon to deal with particularly thorny issues. “But the Church proposes a solution: palliative care,” he insists.