ROME — Twice in recent days Pope Francis has asked society not to abandon the elderly, saying that no duty is more important than safeguarding people, and that no good is ever achieved by “going against” human life.
In an explicit appeal for a greater commitment to palliative care, and thus an indirect condemnation of physician-assisted suicide, the pope called for medical professionals to “respect, protect, love, and serve every human life.”
Francis also said that medical knowledge is truly science only if it values a person, which is “never achieved by going against his life and dignity.”
The remarks came in the pope’s weekly general audience Wednesday and in an address Thursday to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, gathered in Rome for an annual assembly on the theme, “Assisting the elderly and palliative care.”
The academy was created by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994 to study questions and issues connected with the promotion and defense of human life from an interdisciplinary perspective.
“Abandonment is the most serious ‘illness’ of the elderly and also the greatest injustice they can suffer,” Francis said on Thursday. “Those who helped us to grow must not be abandoned when they need our help, our love, and our tenderness.”
Talking about the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” Francis said the Bible has many warnings for those who neglect or mistreat parents. That warning applies today, he said, when children marginalize and abandon parents who have “become older and less useful.”
To “honor” Francis said, today means respecting and taking care of those who, because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die or even “made to die.”
“Neither the medical evidence and efficiency, nor the rules of health care systems and economic profit, can be the only criteria governing the actions of doctors,” Francis said, adding that no state should make a profit with medical care.
Francis encouraged medical professionals and students to specialize in palliative care, saying that it doesn’t have less value simply because it “does not save lives.”
During his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Francis had said that “attention for the elderly is what makes the difference within a civilization.”
The pontiff also insisted that an elderly person is not a stranger.
“We are that elderly person,” Francis said. “Sooner or later, we will inevitably grow old, too, even if we don’t think about it. If we don’t learn to treat old people well, then this is how we will also be treated.”