It Is a Miracle to See a Brother in the Sick Person We Have Before Us
by Pope Francis
Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen:
I welcome you to this meeting and I thank Monsignor Alberto Bochatey, O.S.A., Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, President of the Health Commission of the Argentine Episcopal Conference; Mr Cristian Mazza, President of the Health Consensus Foundation and the entities they represent, for the opportunity of this Seminar that, with the sponsorship of the Pontifical Academy for Life, is organized to address topics in the health realm that are of great importance in society, from an ethical reflection based on the Magisterium of the Church.
The realm of health in general, and particularly in Latin America, is going through a period marked by economic crisis, whose difficulties can make us fall into discouragement in the development of medical science and in access to the most appropriate therapies and medicines. However, the care of our brothers opens our heart to receive a wonderful gift. In this context, I propose three words to you for reflection: miracle, care, and confidence.
Those responsible for welfare institutions will rightly tell me that miracles can’t be done and that one must assume that the cost-benefit balance implies a distribution of the resources and that the allocations, moreover, are conditioned by the infinite medical, legal, economic, social and political as well as ethical questions.
However, a miracle isn’t to do the impossible; a miracle is to see a brother in the sick, helpless person we have before us. We are called to recognize, in the recipient of care, the immense value of his dignity as a human being, as a child of God. It’s not something that can, on its own, undo all the knots that exist objectively in the systems, but it will create in us the willingness to undo them in the measure of our possibilities and, in addition, it will make way for an interior change and a change of mentality in ourselves and in society.
This awareness — if it is profoundly rooted in the social substratum — will enable the creation of the legislative, economic, and medical structures necessary to address the problems as they arise. The solutions don’t have to be identical at all times and <in all> realities, but they can be managed by combining the public and the private, legislation and deontology, social justice and entrepreneurial initiative. The inspiring principles of this work cannot be other than the search for the good. This good isn’t an abstract ideal, but a concrete person, a face, which often suffers. Be courageous and generous in your intentions, plans, and projects and in the use of the economic and techno-scientific means. Those that are benefitted, especially the poorest, will be able to appreciate your efforts and initiatives.
The second word is care. To cure the sick isn’t simply the aseptic application of appropriate medications or therapies. Not even its primal meaning is limited to seeking the re-establishment of health. The Latin verb “curare” means to attend, to be concerned, to take care, to be responsible for the other, for a brother. We priests must learn from this, as God calls us for that. We priests exist to take care, to cure.
The disposition of the health agent is important in all cases, but perhaps it’s perceived with greater intensity in palliative care. We are living, almost at the universal level, a strong tendency to the legalization of euthanasia. We know that when we engage in serene and participatory human accompaniment, the grave chronic patient or the sick in the terminal phase perceives this solicitude. In these harsh circumstances also, if the person feels loved, respected, accepted, the negative shadow of euthanasia disappears or becomes almost non-existent, as the value of his being is measured by his capacity to give and receive love and not by his productivity.
It’s necessary that health professionals and those that dedicate themselves to health care commit themselves to a continuous updating of the necessary competencies so that they can always respond to their vocation as ministers of life. The New Charter of Health Agents (NCAS) is a useful instrument of reflection and work for you, and it’s an element that can help in the dialogue between private and State, national and international initiatives and projects. This joint dialogue and work enriches healthcare concretely and goes out to meet the many health needs and emergencies of our Latin American people.
The third word is confidence, which we can distinguish in several realms. First of all, as you know, is the confidence of the sick person in himself, in the possibility of being cured, as a great part of the success of therapy hinges in that. Not less important for the worker is to be able to carry out his function in a serene surrounding, and this can’t be separated from knowing that he is doing what is right, what is humanly possible, given the resources at his disposal. This certainly must be based on a system of sustainable health care, in which all the elements that make it up, governed by healthy subsidiarity, lean on one another to respond to the needs of society as a whole, and of the sick person in his singularity.
To put oneself in the hands of a person, especially when life is at stake, is very difficult; however, the relationship with the doctor or the nurse is always founded on responsibility and loyalty. Today, because of the bureaucratization and complexity of the health system, we run the risk that the terms of the “contract” are the ones that establish the relationship between the patient and the health agent, thus breaking that confidence.
We must continue struggling to maintain integrally this bond of profound humanity, as no welfare institution can substitute on its own the human heart or human compassion (Cf. Saint John Paul II, M.P. Dolentium Hominum, February 11, 1985; NCAS, 3). Therefore, the relationship with the sick person calls for respect of his autonomy and a strong charge of willingness, care, understanding, complicity, and dialogue, to be the expression of a commitment assumed as service (Cf. NCAS, 4).
I encourage you in your task to take to many persons and many families the hope and joy that they need. May Our Holy Virgin, Health of the Sick, accompany you in your ideals and works, and may She who was able to receive Life, Jesus, in her womb, is an example of faith and courage for all of you. I bless you all from my heart. May God the Father of all give each of you the prudence, love, and closeness to the sick to be able to fulfill your duty with great humanity. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican[Original text: Spanish] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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