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Rome Reports

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Vatican: the issue with euthanasia is loneliness

It's paradoxical, but in the world of social networks we are increasingly more alone. It's an epidemic in Western society, and if loneliness is combined with the pain of an incurable disease and advanced age, the trauma can become very difficult. 

Countries like Belgium have used this argument to justify the legalization of euthanasia, which is completely rejected by the Church as well as other sectors. In fact, the Vatican is taking another route – trying to eliminate loneliness and investing in palliative care. That's why the Holy See joined 400 experts from 38 countries to share experiences and launch this proposal worldwide. 

President, Pontifical Academy for Life

“Globalization is very technological but not very human. That's why I believe people must be educated about life stages, their problems and how essential human relationships are.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center (U.S.)
“I think that one of the challenges is that 100% of us sitting here are going to die. I know that you wanted to do this in an optimistic, positive note, but it's an important reminder. Most of us are going to die of a chronic progresive illness that is going to cause considerable physical, emotional, functional distress and suffering to our families. Most of medicine for the last 70 or 80 years has focused on managing diseases – our hospitals, our healthcare systems, our universities are organized around diseases more than around personal suffering for those diseases.”

Eduardo Bruera, from the University of Texas, is an oncologist. He's one of the experts who have come to the Vatican. Bruera specializes in palliative care and also reminds that, in reality, very few people request euthanasia. 

MD Anderson Cancer Center (U.S.)
“We did an investigation in which we asked a sample of the population the following: If you were in pain and tired; if you were unemployed, if you couldn't drive or go to see a soccer game; if you couldn't do all the things you normally do... Would you want to live? Sixty to 65 percent of people said, 'No.' On the other hand, when we asked the same question to the sick, the gravely ill, only three percent responded, 'No.' These sick people were at the restaurant two years earlier where we did the investigation. This shows we can view things differently when we are ill.”

In light of the issue of pain, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life proposes the education and reinforcement of people's social environment to prevent the psychological breakdown produced by loneliness.

It's not like he lacks examples. In fact, there's one nearby. Sardinia, for instance, where the pope visited in 2013, has one of the longest life expectancies in the world for one reason – solid and lasting social relationships. The same can't be said for big cities.