Pontifical Academy for Life focusses on "Aging and Disability"

2014-02-20 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message to the Pontifical Academy for Life which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with a General Assembly and Workshop focussing on the theme of “Aging and Disability”.

In his message addressed to the President of the Academy, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco De Paula, the Pope says it is a very topical issue, one which is very dear to the Church. In fact, he says “the tyrannical rule of economic logic that dominates our society excludes and sometimes kills, provoking many victims, many of whom are the elderly”.

The event takes place at the Augustinianum Institute on Thursday 20th and Friday 21st February.

The Workshop, which is open to the public, caters particularly to researchers, scholars, health care workers and students who intend to deepen their understanding of this topic.

The themes participants will be reflecting on include the practical application of philosophical, theological, scientific, medical, ethical, social and cultural perspectives pertaining to the life of the elderly.

Linda Bordoni spoke to Dr. John Haas President of the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in the United States about the event and, more generally, about the topic of aging and disability in today’s society, about the Church’s contribution to the issue, about the value – as Pope Francis has so often highlighted – of the experience, the memory, the contribution and the wisdom of the aged …

Dr. Haas, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVIth to serve on the Governing Council of the Pontifical Council for Life, is moderating the first session of the Conference. He says the choice of focussing on issues regarding the aged is extremely topical in today’s world…

Listen to the interview…

Dr Haas says that because of the current demographic trend the world population is aging and it is not being quickly replaced: “I think it is a very apt topic – these are grave social problems in most Western countries with an aging population, all kinds of ethical questions arise with regard to their treatment – end of life decisions have to be made”. “It can be “a very difficult time of life but it can also be a very beautiful time of life depending on how we go in to it” he said.

Commenting on the emphasis Pope Francis puts on the importance and value of the elderly, Dr. Haas says Francis has a profound impact on the way people think by virtue of his personality which leads them to “sit up and pay more attention”. He also says that Francis’ emerging “theology of compassion and of accompaniment” is fundamental in the way society treats its elderly. “I think that this call will really resonate with the faithful” he said.

Dr. Haas speaks of his work and his concerns as a doctor, as a theologian and as a Catholic at the head of an important bioethical institution. He says “we probably do more consultations than any other in the United States – about 2000 individual consultations a year – our ethicists are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and probably the largest number of requests have to do with end-of-life care: decisions about whether or not somebody should be put on hydration nutrition, whether they should be put on a ventilator etc.”. “So many of the issues that surround the end of life are very difficult, and they are also unique. Every situation is somewhat different, in terms of one’s general health, of one’s position in society or within the family, in terms of one’s wealth even…” he said.

Dr Haas speaks about the role of Catholic Church in this delicate sector and explains that it is concerned about protecting , preserving and promoting the human person, “and there are constant threats to it, whether it is at the beginning of life or whether it is at the end of life” he said.

“What the Catholic Church brings, is an uncompromising commitment to defend the dignity of the human person. And when you have a society which is aging, which is not providing a lot of young people to come along and support the elderly, there can be the danger that human life can be compromised, can be discarded for financial reasons, for the ‘greater good of society’, but the Church is adamant on this and will not allow those kinds of considerations s ever to have a bearing on decisions made about somebody at the end of their life”.