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Jews and Catholics reaffirm common opposition to euthanasia

Bazylika Grobu Bożego w Jerozolimie

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I.Media for Aleteia - published on 05/15/23

"For both Jews and Christians, taking care of the terminally ill with belief, respect, and love means truly to light the lamp of faith and hope."

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“For both Jews and Christians, taking care of the terminally ill with belief, respect, and love,” is a duty, said the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in a statement released May 12, 2023. The text is a result of the 17th meeting of the bilateral commission of the two bodies, which was held in Jerusalem from May 2 to 4.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was the first time the commission had met in five years. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Jewish and Catholic Approaches to the terminally ill: The Prohibited, the Permitted and the Obligatory.”

The two sides recalled the importance of respecting “the dignity of every human being, which for Jews and Catholics flows from the religious affirmation of the sanctity of human life.”

This is in line with Pope Francis’ statements, as he has repeatedly lamented how contemporary culture is “progressively eroding the understanding of that which makes human life precious.”

“For both Jews and Christians, taking care of the terminally ill with belief, respect, and love means truly to light the lamp of faith and hope at a time shrouded in darkness and a sense of solitude and abandonment for both patient and dear ones,” the statement reads.

The limits of science and the importance of palliative care

The bilateral commission cited a previous statement they had issued in February 2006, in which they rejected “active euthanasia (so-called mercy killing) and physician-assisted suicide, as the illegitimate human arrogation of an exclusive Divine authority to determine the time of a person’s death.”

“Accordingly, there must be limits to the application of science and technology in recognition of the fact that not everything which is technically feasible is ethical,” the statement explains. 

The current text also cited a joint declaration against euthanasia and assisted suicide, signed at the Vatican by the three Abrahamic Religions in October 2019.

The declaration placed “special emphasis on the importance of compassionate palliative care and maximal effort to alleviate pain and suffering.”

The commission also drew a distinction “between actions that hasten death, and actions of omission beyond the provision of basic human needs.” The statement emphasizes that “withdrawing continuous medical treatment (e.g. ventilator or pacemaker),” does not have the same ethical implication as suspending “life-prolonging medical treatments beyond basic human needs (e.g. dialysis, chemotherapy).”

The commission also underlined that the religious beliefs of each patient must be respected in these sensitive “end-of-life situations.”

The Holy See’s delegation

The Catholic delegation was led by Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and, in this capacity, President of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also participated in the exchanges.

During their time in Jerusalem both delegations that make up the body visited the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, a facility founded in 1902 and affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In their statement they said that this medical center treated the terminally ill in accordance with the principles they outlined.

EuthanasiaHoly SeeIsraelJerusalem
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