Pope Francis has repeatedly expressed his alarm about “throwing away” the disabled and elderly through euthanasia and assisted suicide, and in the month of February,he is inviting the whole Church to prayfor a renewed commitment to the terminally ill and their families.
The Pope’s February intention, illustrated with The Pope Video, comes in the month when the Church also marks the World Day of the Sick, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The World Day of the Sick was established in 1992 by John Paul II.
Pope Francis explains that “when some people talk about terminal illnesses, there are two words they often confuse: incurable and un-care-able. But they are not the same.”
Citing John Paul II, Pope Francis affirms, “Cure if it is possible; always take care.”
Depending on how they are interpreted, the images from The Pope Video for February, distributed by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, depict a series of failures or successes: failures, if the only acceptable outcome is a cure; successes, if the objective is the care of the patient.
To cure and to care seem to be synonymous, but they are not. Pope Francisexplains this clearly: Even when little chance for a cure exists, “every sick person has the right to medical, psychological, spiritual, and human assistance.” And he continues, “Healing is not always possible, but we can always care for the sick person, caress them.”
The sick, families and palliative care
In our throw-away culture, there is no longer a place for the terminally ill. And it is not a coincidence that, in the last decades, the temptation to euthanasia has been gaining ground in many countries. But Pope Francis invites us to look on the sick person lovingly – to understand, for example, that physical contact can give so much even to those who are no longer able to speak and who no longer seem to recognize their own relatives anymore – and to assist them in the best way possible as long as they need it.
It is not a question about unnecessarily prolonging suffering. Rather, the Pope insists on the importance of palliative care and the role of the family who, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith writes in the letter Samaritanus bonus of 2020, “remains at the bedside of the sick to bear witness to their unique and unrepeatable value.”
Regarding palliative care, Pope Francis reiterates that it “guarantees the patient not only medical attention, but also human assistance and closeness.”
Meanwhile, when speaking about the role of the family, he reminds us that “they should not be left alone in these difficult moments,” and that “their role is decisive and they need access to adequate means so as to provide appropriate physical, spiritual and social support.”
This is why the Pope then concludes by asking for prayers and a commitment from everyone so that “the terminally ill and their families always receive the necessary medical and human care and assistance.”