Pope to Academy for Life: Bad Health or Disability Never a Reason for Exclusion, Elimination

February 20th, 2014

2014-02-20 Vatican Radio

In his message to the president and participants of the Council’s General Assembly, Pope Francis recalls that the institution’s specific task is to study and provide information and training regarding biomedical ethics and law – particularly in the promotion and defense of life.
This service, the Pope writes, helps put science and technology “at the service of the human person” and contributes to “the integral good of the person.”
Describing the Assembly’s theme, “Ageing and disability” as “a very topical one…dear to the Church,” Pope Francis says “In fact, in our societies we find the tyrannical rule of an economic logic that excludes and sometimes kills.” He notes that many have fallen victim to this logic, especially “our elderly.”
Referring to our society today, the Pope uses the expression, “throwaway culture” which we’ve often heard him use before, adding that this attitude “is even promoted.”
But, the Pope warns, “It is no longer simply the phenomenon of exploitation and oppression, but of something new.” With exclusion, the idea of “belonging” to the society in which one lives is struck to its very core, says the Pope. It no longer matters if you are “powerless” or “live in the slums” or “the outskirts” of society – you are simply “out.” The excluded are not “exploited” but rather, they are considered “waste” (it: rifiuti) or “leftovers.”
In a rapidly ageing society, the Pope notes, elderly people, especially those who are “sick, disabled, or vulnerable for any reason” are targets for exclusion. People seem to forget, he says, that relations between people are always based on “mutual dependence,” which varies in degree according to “sickness, disability, suffering in general.” This is where “interpersonal and community relationships” are needed to assist those who require help.
Pope Francis reflects here on the value we place on people and on health, which can form “the basis of discrimination and exclusion.” “Health is certainly an important value, but it does not determine the value of the person,” the Pope writes.
Moreover, the lack of good health and disability “are never a good reason to exclude, or worse, to eliminate a person.” The worst deprivation that older people suffer, he stresses, “is not the weakening of the body and disability” but “abandonment, exclusion, deprivation of love.”
The family teaches us to welcome and provide solidarity to others. In the family we learn that “the loss of health is not a reason to discriminate” against certain individuals ; The family shows us the importance of “us” and keeps us from falling into the individualistic trap of “me.” It shows us how to care for others. Besides expressing solidarity, families must also advocate on behalf of the elderly who can continue to make important contributions to their communities.
“A society is truly welcoming towards life when it recognizes that (life) is valuable even in old age, in disability, in severe disease and even when it is dying,” and “when it teaches that…human fulfillment does not exclude suffering” but holds it up as “a gift” that calls the entire community to “solidarity and responsibility.”