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Pope speaks out on treatment of dying

Pope John Paul II has spoken against using extreme measures to keep terminally ill people alive, suggesting the use of medical techniques to preserve a patient's life "at all costs" could be "useless and not fully respectful of the patient".

"Certainly one cannot forget that man is a limited and mortal being," he said on Saturday, addressing a group of doctors specialising in stomach and bowel diseases. "It's thus necessary to approach the ill with that healthy realism which avoids generating in those who suffer the illusion of medicine's omnipotence."

According to the BBC, Church leaders said the Pope's statement does not represent a change in doctrine. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, on Saturday denounced euthanasia as a "crime against life".

In some cases, however, continuing medical treatment is seen as intervention in natural processes, as in a "right to die" ruling by a British judge this week, upholding a paralysed woman's right to refuse the use of the life support machine keeping her alive.

The Pope told the doctors that in some situations it was "presumptuous" to rely only on scientific techniques and care for the dying "must take into account not only the body but also the spirit."


25 Mar 2002