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World Day of the Sick

Author: Katherine Pettus, PhD, OSB; Advocacy Officer, IAHPC
10 February 2017

"The Word Day of the Sick (WDS) 2017 is a good opportunity to support faith based healthcare organisations to promote, and wherever possible, develop and implement palliative care through their network of hospitals," writes Dr Katherine Pettus, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC).

Ten years ago, on the 20th World Day of the Sick in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI made the case for palliative care in the following statement: The Church wishes to support the incurably and terminally ill by calling for just social policies which can help to eliminate the causes of many diseases and by urging improved care for the dying and those for whom no medical remedy is available. 

There is a need to promote policies which create conditions where human beings can bear even incurable illnesses and death in a dignified manner. Here it is necessary to stress once again the need for more palliative care centres which provide integral care, offering the sick the human assistance and spiritual accompaniment they need. This is a right belonging to every human being, one which we must all be committed to defend.

Ten years later, in 2017, IAHPC wishes to encourage our partners to express clear support for faith based teachings on palliative care. It is important to increase public and faith based literacy about palliative care. Lack of knowledge leads to assumptions that palliative care is the same as euthanasia or may lead to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. 

We have even seen it called “stealth euthanasia.” In some instances 2 the extent of this confusion and misinformation has led to the deletion of palliative care language in the text of international agreements or made it impossible for representatives to reach a consensus. It is important to clarify this misinformation with the authoritative teachings of the Church. The IAHPC recently issued a non-denominational Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, which defines these practices and describes why IAHPC believes they both violate the bond of trust within the profession of medicine, and undermine the integrity of the profession and the dedication to safeguard human life. 

IAHPC believes that no country or state should consider the legalization of euthanasia or PAS until it ensures universal access to palliative care services and to appropriate medications, including opioids for pain and dyspnea. The position statement will soon be available in Spanish and IAHPC will disseminate it as widely as possible. 

The Word Day of the Sick (WDS) 2017 is a good opportunity to support faith based healthcare organisations to promote, and wherever possible, develop and implement palliative care through their network of hospitals. 

Main Points about WDS 

• The involvement of palliative care organisations in WDS2017 will emphasise that palliative care is pro-life until natural death. 3 

• Pope Francis message for the WDS 2017 states “that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life.”4 Palliative care values and respect for human dignity until the end of life is consistent with this message. 

• The Roman Catholic Church is largest non-governmental provider of health care services in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16K homes for the elderly and 5500 hospitals, 65% located in developing countries. The Catholic Church manages 26% of the world’s health care facilities. 

Only recently has the medical profession begun to appreciate that unrelieved pain can itself hasten death. It can weaken the patient, suppress his or her immune system, and induce depression and suicidal feelings. It can keep patients from living out their lives with a modicum of dignity, in the fellowship of their families and friends. So adequate pain relief can actually lengthen life. 

According to the Catholic Health Association "Unrelieved agony will shorten a life more surely than adequate doses of morphine.” 

Interested in this topic? Follow @kpettus on Twitter to learn more. 


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