February 20, 2024

“Care” vs “overzealous treatment”: Pope Francis speaks on end of life issues

Pope Francis has advised doctors to avoid “overzealous treatment”.

Pope Francis has advised doctors to avoid “overzealous treatment” of patients at the end of life, saying that “burdensome” treatment may not be in the bests interests of the person.

Addressing the World Medical Association European Regional Meeting on End of Life Questions — a conference jointly organised by the World Medical Association, the German Medical Association and the Pontifical Academy of Life — the Roman Pontiff said that that the development of powerful medical technologies calls for prudent discretion on the part of clinicians:

“greater wisdom is called for today [in end of life care], because of the temptation to insist on treatments that have powerful effects on the body, yet at times do not serve the integral good of the person”.

The Pope broached the much discussed topic of “overly burdensome treatment”, and discussed a series of ethical principles outlined by his predecessors Pius XII and John Paul II.

“…in the face of critical situations and in clinical practice, the factors that come into play are often difficult to evaluate. To determine whether a clinically appropriate medical intervention is actually proportionate, the mechanical application of a general rule is not sufficient. There needs to be a careful discernment of the moral object, the attending circumstances, and the intentions of those involved. In caring for and accompanying a given patient, the personal and relational elements in his or her life and death – which is after all the last moment in life – must be given a consideration befitting human dignity. In this process, the patient has the primary role.”

Roman Pontiff’'s comments follow a statement earlier this year from the Pontifical Academy for Life on the controversy surrounding British infant Charlie Gard. In the statement, Academy president Vincenzo Paglia said:

“The proper question to be raised in this and in any other unfortunately similar case is this:  what are the best interests of the patient?  We must do what advances the health of the patient, but we must also accept the limits of medicine and, as stated in paragraph 65 of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, avoid aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family.”  

“Care” vs “overzealous treatment”: Pope Francis speaks on end of life issues
Xavier Symons
Creative commons
end of life
pope francis
withdrawal of treatment