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Vatican to promote the use of painkillers

Restating its opposition to any form of euthanasia, the Vatican yesterday said that painkilling drugs should be used in order to help dying patients live out their days to a "natural end".

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, Pope John Paul II's spokesperson on health care issues, was responding to a question about living wills at a news conference.

"We must preserve life from its beginning to its natural end," he said. "Life doesn't belong to us. Life belongs to God."

The Vatican is holding a conference this week to promote the use of painkillers for chronic pain suffers and terminally ill patients.

Vatican officials stressed that church teaching holds that use of "excessive measures" to keep a patient alive are not required.

"When you prolong in a painful and useless way suffering which is not responding [to treatment], those are extraordinary means," the cardinal said.

One conference participant expressed hope that the sessions, to be attended by Catholic and non-Catholic experts, will "dismantle the cliché" that the Catholic Church discourages pain relief because of its emphasis on the value of suffering.

"In 1956, [Pope] Pius XII declared that that is was permissible to use opiates" against pain, said Maurizio Evangelista, a researcher in pain therapy, anaesthesia and intensive care at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

Another participant said relieving pain could help reduce recourse to euthanasia or excessive measures.

"To avoid extraordinary measures and to avoid euthanasia, we must concentrate on these palliative cures," said Dr Vittorina Zagonel, director of oncology at Rome's Fatebenefratelli hospital, a public institution administered by a Catholic religious order.

The cardinal was asked if in situations of extreme suffering in the face of certain death - such as a mortally wounded man on a battlefield - the church could sanction euthanasia.

"If a person is suffering, and you kill him, that's euthanasia" and not permitted by the church, the cardinal said.

650 people from 73 countries, including important specialists in the field of palliative cures from Asia, America, Europe and Africa, will participate in the conference. Australians attending include Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan.

The meeting will discuss the scientific study of palliative cures, which the cardinal defined as "the treatment of pain", as well as new directions in medical research, including the role of psychological sciences in palliative cures.

Vatican to promote the use of painkillers (Mail & Guardian Online/Associated Press 9/11/04)
Experts in palliative cures meet in the Vatican (Vatican Information Service 9/11/04)

Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care

10 Nov 2004