Physician-assisted suicide is part of a “throwaway culture” that offers a “false compassion” and treats a human person as a problem, Pope Francis told medical leaders on Thursday.
“True compassion does not marginalize anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude – much less considers the disappearance of a person as a good thing,” the Pope said. He criticized “those who hide behind an alleged compassion to justify and approve the death of a patient.”
“You are well aware of the meaning of the triumph of selfishness, of this ‘throwaway culture’ that rejects and dismisses those who do not comply with certain canons of health, beauty and utility,” he said.
The Pope addressed the managers of the Medical Orders of Spain and Latin America in the Apostolic Palace on June 9.
According to Vatican Radio’s translation, he described compassion as “the just response to the immense value of the sick person.” This response is composed of respect, understanding and tenderness “so that the sacred value of the life of the patient does not disappear or become obscured, but instead shines with greater splendor precisely in suffering and helplessness.”
Compassion is a necessary part of the medical profession, Pope Francis stressed.
“The doctor’s identity and commitment depends not only on scientific knowledge and technical competence, but principally on the attitude of compassion and mercy towards those who suffer in body and spirit. Compassion does not mean pity, it means ‘suffering with’,” he said.
Technological and individualistic culture does not always consider compassion well, he said. It even disdains it and regards it as humiliation.
“Frailty, pain and infirmity are a difficult trial for everyone, including medical staff. They call for patience, for ‘suffering-with.’ Therefore, we must not give in to the functionalist temptation to apply rapid and drastic solutions, moved by false compassion or by mere criteria of efficiency or cost-effectiveness,” he added.
“The dignity of human life is at stake. The dignity of the medical vocation is at stake.”
“Nothing must prevent you from ‘putting more heart into your hands’,” the pontiff told the medical leaders, citing St. Camillo de Lellis.
Pope Francis reflected on the theological aspects of health and medicine. In the biblical tradition, there is a close link between health and salvation.
“The Fathers of the Church used to refer to Christ and His work of salvation with the title ‘Christus Medicus’ (Christ the Doctor),” the Pope explained. “He is the Good Shepherd who cares for the wounded sheep and comforts the sick. He is the Good Samaritan who does not pass by the injured person at the roadside, but rather, moved by compassion, cures and attends to him.”
The Pope added he likes to bless doctors’ hands as a sign to recognize “this compassion that becomes the caress of health.”