Have we gone in fifty years from the medicalization of death and dying to their legalization, with the same excesses and the same dehumanizing excesses? Everything seems to indicate it among our transalpine neighbors as in France. The drama takes place today in Parliament, where death becomes the object of a claimed right. Yesterday it was in the hospital that death was challenged, we were going to conquer it… at the risk of abandoning the dying. It is today in the hemicycle that the relationship to human finitude is played out. What have we forgotten about the paths that seem to lead inexorably to the conquest of “ultimate freedom”?
That at the beginning of caring for the suffering, we found Christians and men and women of good will moved simply by their common humanity with the left behind. That it was not a strategic objective that guided Madame Jeanne Garnier when, in the middle of the 19th century, a young widow, she brought together ladies in the service of the most suffering. That the precursors of palliative care were bold in the name of the living and mortal human. At the heart of a conquering hospital institution, they dared to think against the paradigm of all-powerful medicine. That we only approach life and death humanely in a singular, humble way, because the vulnerable and mortal human being unconditionally demands attention, care and help, as the philosopher Marc Crépon writes.
The reading of recent Italian debates and the interpretations that have been made of them induce patterns of thought on the end of life and on death, on the Church and its mission, on the place of Christians in the city, and finally on the moral teaching of the Church, which should be questioned. Let us give ourselves the means to do so as members of the people of God, guided by the “universal desire for humanity” (Fratelli tuttti).
Are life and death only the field of bitter negotiations? We have forgotten our finitude, forgotten that we are mortal, because death has moved away from our concrete existences. We entrust it to a few whom we pay little and we hasten to flee its approach. As if we wanted to preserve our body itself from being too close to illness or old age. Who hasn’t heard: “We want our children to keep a good image” justifying the removal of the youngest? Hidden behind our screens which present it encrypted and anonymous, we no longer have human access to dying. The drama of our humanity is there, but this is only audible if we collectively find the paths that concretely lead us to experience ourselves alive and mortal, alive until death, wrote Ricœur. These paths go through the recognition of our own vulnerability over the trials and joys experienced in the ordinary of our lives if we agree to live them really, not only by the conquests of freedom.
The Church would be a Church of positions, cornerized? We have forgotten that the ethics of accompanying the suffering and the dying were not developed away from their bed. That it is from and in practice that the principles of accompaniment and non-abandonment have found their humanizing truth. It is through the commitment of caregivers, patients, ethicists, that the Church has dug the furrow of fraternity in the places of abandonment. Its posture in this area is one of listening and dialogue. To think of the action of the Church in terms of an alternative between participating in a law or limiting oneself to the affirmation of principle is ultimately to think of the Church only through her Magisterium, as if the latter exercised in isolation, above and at a distance from the practice of the faithful. This is to forget that the word of the Church unfolds in the attitudes which confirm its profound humanity. It is in this that his word is the word of the Gospel. The history of palliative care is a place of verification.
The end-of-life ethic on which the faithful of the Church and men and women of good will find themselves belongs to the logic of the Gospel. So let’s talk about ethics and leave the slope of the moralizing accusation. The Church has better than that to offer in places of hospitality. It is at the heart of this accompaniment, this listening and this welcome that the Church bears witness to love and that within her theologians help to set out humanizing landmarks. This is the morality of the Gospel, in its logic of gift and mercy, in the enactment of “Go and do the same” and not in the less-so-called ethics of the permitted and the forbidden.
Would the question be posed in terms of the lesser evil or the greater good, or even of ecclesial strategy, on the site of the desired death and assistance in its implementation? No, the question is that of the discernment to be carried out, in a complex situation of illness and suffering, in order to be as faithful as possible to the call to “do the same” in the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10, 37). “Doing the same” is the logic of the Gospel and morality finds its foundation and its end there. Salvation is not a matter of strategy. Salvation is a story of availability to love in the places of “joys and hopes, sadness and anguish of the men and women of this time” (Gaudium et spes n. 1).