The Family’s Care for the Elderly
The Holy Father spoke to participants of the 21st Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life on March 5, 2015. The theme for the Assembly was “Assistance to the Elderly and Palliative Care.”
Pope Francis said, “Palliative care is an expression of a proper human attitude to take care of one another, especially of those who suffer.” It shows the belief in the sacredness and preciousness of human life. The person who suffers and who approaches death is always a “good in itself and for others and is loved by God,” the Holy Father said. It is our responsibility to assist and support a human being as he or she approaches death.
The fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” can be understood as applying to all the elderly. The Pope notes, “God attaches a twofold promise to this Commandment: ‘that your days may be long’ (Exodus 20:12) and ‘that it may go well with you’ (Deuteronomy5:16),” while on the other hand, for those who neglect parents, “the Bible reserves a severe admonition.” If we are wise, says Pope Francis, we will see that the elderly person has special value and can teach us, even if they appear to be “less useful.” In contemporary society, the pope notes, “the logic of usefulness takes over that of solidarity and gratuitousness, even within families.”
Scripture calls us to have “extreme respect” for those who “could be left to die or ‘made to die,’” and medicine plays a key role in this. Profit or efficiency must not be the main considerations in the medical profession. “There is no greater duty for a society,” says the pope, “than that of protecting the human person.”
Pope Francis calls on the family to care for the elderly because familial love and affection “cannot be substituted not even by the most efficient structures and the most competent and charitable health workers.” When the family requires help, palliative care may enter in and support them in this task. This type of care offers the elderly and the terminally ill alleviation of some of their suffering and gives the support they need at the end of their lives. The pope notes that being abandoned is the “gravest ‘sickness’ of the elderly, and also the greatest injustice they can suffer.”
Addressing those who work in palliative care, Pope Francis thanked them for making it available to all those who need it and for showing in that way the value of human life. He exhorted them to preserve the noble meaning of medicine which never turns against the person and his or her dignity. He encouraged the assembled to continue their research and studies in order to promote and defend life at all times.