Vatican to promote the use of painkillers

The Vatican restated the Catholic Church’s prohibition of euthanasia on Tuesday, as officials promoted use of painkilling drugs to help dying patients live out their days to a “natural end”.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who is Pope John Paul II’s leading official on health-care issues, was responding to a question about living wills at a news conference.

“We must preserve life from its beginning to its natural end,” Lozano Barragan said. “Life doesn’t belong to us. Life belongs to God.”

The Vatican is holding a conference this week to promote the use of painkillers for chronic pain suffers and terminally ill patients.

Vatican officials stressed that church teaching holds that use of “excessive measures” to keep a patient alive are not required.

“When you prolong in a painful and useless way suffering which is not responding [to treatment], those are extraordinary means,” the cardinal said.

A conference participant expressed hope that the sessions, to be attended by Catholic and non-Catholic experts, will “dismantle the cliché” that the Catholic Church discourages pain relief because of its emphasis on the value of suffering.

“In 1956, [Pope] Pius XII declared that that is was permissible to use opiates” against pain, said Maurizio Evangelista, a researcher in pain therapy, anaesthesia and intensive care at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

Another participant said relieving pain could help reduce recourse to euthanasia or excessive measures.

“To avoid extraordinary measures and to avoid euthanasia, we must concentrate on these palliative cures,” said Dr Vittorina Zagonel, director of oncology at Rome’s Fatebenefratelli hospital, a public institution administered by a Catholic religious order.

The cardinal was asked if in situations of extreme suffering in the face of certain death—such as a mortally wounded man on a battlefield—the church could sanction euthanasia.

“If a person is suffering, and you kill him, that’s euthanasia” and not permitted by the church, the cardinal said.—Sapa-AP


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