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Vatican redefines wellbeing

While everyone has "a moral duty" to maintain their health, there are limits to the right to pursue physical well-being, according to the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Bishop Elio Sgreccia.

Health, when defined as complete physical, mental and social well-being, has led to a "hedonistic" sense of well-being that can put the lives of the defenceless at risk, he said.

"Just think that, using the health of the woman as its motive, abortion was legalized," he said. "So-called reproductive health involves abortion, sterilization and emergency contraception," he added.

The bishop's comments came ahead of this week's meeting sponsored by the Vatican academy that was set to address the ethical definitions of "quality of life" and "health".

Speaking at a Vatican press conference late last week, Bishop Sgreccia said a sense for the sacredness of life is lost when expectations of what constitutes a decent quality of life are too high or too Utopian.

"Where an acceptable level of quality of life does not exist, life loses its value and is not worth being lived. As a result," he said, "quality of life becomes absolute, and the sacredness of life becomes relative."

The obsession with achieving or maintaining good health has practically become a new religion, said Dr. Manfred Lutz, a German psychiatrist and member of the academy.

"Not God, but an individual's health (becomes) the greatest good," he said. One looks for "eternal life from medicine and eternal happiness from psychotherapy."

Health is seen as just another product that can be bought and sold, and whoever is not healthy "tacitly becomes a second- or third-class" citizen, Lutz said.

One theological expert on life issues, Franciscan Fr Maurizio Faggioni, said people in rich countries have put unrealistic demands on medicine.

Medicine is expected "to respond to all the needs and desires of people," he said.

In the drive to fulfill those desires, the drug industry and medical world "absorb public resources beyond all reason," said Father Faggioni, adding that resources must be dedicated to basic health services.

Vatican official says right to pursue physical well-being is limited (Catholic News Service 18/2/05)

Pontifical Academy for Life | Press Conference for the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy For Life on the theme: "Quality of Life and the Ethics of Health" (February 21-23, 2005 - Italian)

Pontifical Academy seeks to redefine "quality of life" (CathNews 18/2/05)

Vatican officials decry 'religion of health' in affluent countries (Associated Press/Yahoo 20/2/05)
Pope says, we must not "squander" health (Catholic News Agency 21/2/05)
"Quality of life and ethics of health salute, concepts of great importance and significance": 11th general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life (Fides 18/2/05)

22 Feb 2005