In message to sick, Francis warns of 'lie' of euthanasia

Rome — Pope Francis has obliquely criticized those who support a right to euthanasia for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a "lie" that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living.

Issuing the annual papal message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated by the Catholic church each Feb. 11, Francis criticizes the phrase "quality of life," frequently used by those who advocate for euthanasia rights to emphasize the pain suffered by some ill persons who might choose to medically end their lives if given the chance by law.

Francis makes the critique in a portion of the message that emphasizes the importance of spending time with those who are sick or ill.

The pontiff first asks that the Holy Spirit "grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted."

Continuing, Francis then states: "How great a lie, on the other hand, lurks behind certain phrases that so insist on the importance of 'quality of life' that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!"

Francis' message for the World Day of the Sick, which is dated Dec. 3, was released by the Vatican Tuesday. Pope John Paul II instituted the Feb. 11 feast day in 1992 saying it was to be "a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one's suffering for the good of the Church."

Francis addresses his message for next year's commemoration on a phrase from the Old Testament's Book of Job -- "I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame" -- saying he wants to consider the theme from the perspective of sapientia cordis, a Latin term for the wisdom of the heart.

Such wisdom of the heart, says Francis, is not theoretical knowledge but "a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God."

The pontiff says that having such wisdom of the heart means four separate things: Serving those who are sick, being with them in their suffering, going forth from yourself to help others, and showing solidarity with the sick while not judging why they are sick.

Francis' oblique critique of euthanasia comes in the second part of the message, in which the pontiff says that "time spent with the sick is holy time."

Writing on serving those who are sick, Francis says the phrase from the Book of Job emphasizes that Job himself had been someone who served others before he became victim to a host of illnesses.

"Job’s words: 'I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame,' point to the service which this just man, who enjoyed a certain authority and a position of importance amongst the elders of his city, offered to those in need," states Francis. "His moral grandeur found expression in the help he gave to the poor who sought his help and in his care for orphans and widows."

"Today too, how many Christians show, not by their words but by lives rooted in a genuine faith, that they are 'eyes to the blind' and 'feet to the lame!'" states the pontiff. "They are close to the sick in need of constant care and help in washing, dressing and eating."

"This service, especially when it is protracted, can become tiring and burdensome," he continues. "It is relatively easy to help someone for a few days but it is difficult to look after a person for months or even years, in some cases when he or she is no longer capable of expressing gratitude. And yet, what a great path of sanctification this is!"

Writing on serving the sick while not judging the reasons for their sickness, Francis states that in the account of Job's suffering his friends would not help him because they thought his illnesses were a sign of his disfavor with God.

"Job’s friends harbored a judgment against him: they thought that Job’s misfortune was a punishment from God for his sins," states Francis. "True charity is a sharing that does not judge, which does not demand the conversion of others; it is free of that false humility which, deep down, seeks praise and is self-satisfied about whatever good it does."

Ending the message, the pontiff states that suffering "can become a privileged means of transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in sapientia cordis."

"People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning," states Francis.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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