|Do Not Abandon the Elderly|
| Last week in Rome Pope Francis spoke to the Pontifical Academy of Life about the vital role of providing palliative care for the elderly. The Holy Father said, “[A]bandonment is the most serious illness of the elderly and also the greatest injustice they can suffer. Those who helped us to grow must not be abandoned when they need our help, our love, and our tenderness.”Palliative care, the Holy Father observed, alleviates the suffering of the sick and accompanies the elderly with tenderness for the duration of their illness. What palliative care offers in the medical field is the recognition of “the value of the person.”
He noted that many elderly are either “left to die or made to die” due to their physical or social condition. The Holy Father said the criteria governing the actions of doctors must not be limited to medical evidence and efficiency, nor to the rules of heath-care systems and economic profit. “A state cannot think of making a profit with medicine. On the contrary, there is no more important duty for a society than safeguarding the human person,” Francis said.
Palliative care then, bears witness that the human person always has value, even when suffering from age and illness, the Pope continued. “[The human person] is a good in and of himself and for others and is loved by God. For this reason, when life becomes very fragile and the end of earthly existence approaches, we feel the responsibility to assist and accompany the person in the best way,” Francis said.
Francis stated that although this type of care is not geared toward saving lives, it centers on the equally important recognition of the value of the human person. He encouraged those working in the field to carry out their tasks with an attitude of service. “It is this capacity for service to the life and dignity of the sick, even when they are old, that is the measure of the true progress of medicine and of all society,” the Pope observed.
“The elderly, first of all, need the care of family members-whose affection cannot be replaced by the most efficient structures or the most competent and charitable health-care workers,” Francis said. He further stated, when family members are not able to offer the needed care or if the illness of their elderly loved one is advanced or terminal, then the “truly human” assistance offered by palliative care is a good option, so long as it “supplements and supports” the care already provided by family members.