“Those involved in healthcare policies as well as economic administrators have a responsibility that extends beyond their specific areas of interest and encompasses all sick people and society as a whole.” The appeal is contained in the new Charter for Healthcare Workers, presented – as wanted by Pope Francis – to mark the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the World Day of the Sick, to be held in Lourdes this coming February 11. The document, an update of the first edition, published 19 years ago in 22 languages, is divided into three sections titled “Generating, Living, Dying.” Alongside the classic professional figures in healthcare (medical, nursing and auxiliary personnel), the Charter considers other figures who in various ways work in the world of health, such as biologists, pharmacists, local healthcare workers, administrators, legislators in healthcare matters, and workers in the public and private sector. The purpose is to support the “ministers of life” in their dedicated “service for the human person.” Keyword: “responsibility”.
Generating. “Cryopreservation of oocytes for purposes linked to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is unacceptable even when motivated by the need to protect oocytes from potentially harmful cancer treatment”, the document states.
However, the freezing of ovarian tissue is considered an ethically sustainable option in the case of oncological therapies that may affect a woman’s fertility.
As regards the “new attempts at human reproduction in the laboratory” – the gestation of human embryos in animal or artificial wombs, the asexual reproduction of human beings by means of twin fission, cloning, or parthenogenesis other similar techniques – these processes “are contrary to the human dignity of the embryo” and procreation, and are therefore considered morally unacceptable. Among prenatal diagnoses, attention is instead drawn to pre-implantation diagnosis considered “an expression of a eugenic mentality that legitimises selective abortion.”
Living. “The Church raises her voice for the protection of human life, the life of the embryo and of the foetus in particular that is defenceless and denied”, the Charter points out, reiterating its firm “NO” to abortion and to the “abortionist culture”, which “inevitably leads many to no longer feel any responsibility towards the unborn life and to trivialize abortion, failing to acknowledge the moral gravity of their action.” This section of the document also addresses the issue of vaccines, at the centre of recent public debate.
“From the point of view of prevention of infectious diseases, the development of vaccines and their use in combating these infections, by compulsory immunization of all concerned, is undoubtedly a positive conduct.”
Gene therapy and regenerative medicine are forbidden in cases that imply the use of embryos.
Rich Countries experience “excessive consumption of medical products”, including non-prescription drugs, while access to medicines is not guaranteed in developing Countries, the document states. It is an ever-present, yet undefeated paradox involving the right to health protection that should be extended “to the entire population”, especially in the case of so-called “rare” and “neglected” diseases, accompanied by the concept of “orphan drugs.”
Hence healthcare providers are asked “To take the lead in raising awareness of institutions, charities and the health industry,” mindful of the fact that the right to health protection “is the result of economic, social as well as cultural factors.”
Dying. The last section of the Vatican document, with explicit reference to the advance treatment directive, (ATD) the subject of ongoing Parliament debate, examines “the attitude towards the patient in the terminal phase of illness, which verifies the professionalism and ethical responsibilities of healthcare worker.” Moreover, the Charter affirms that
the “reasonable will and legitimate interest of the patient” should always be respected, but the doctor “is not a mere executor” and conserves “the right and the duty to deny a request should his conscience not permit it.”
Neither euthanasia nor therapeutic obstinacy, the Charter reaffirms, pointing out that “nutrition and hydration, even when artificially administered, are to be considered among the basic treatments due to the dying, other than when they prove too burdensome or do not benefit the latter.” The ethical validity of “palliative deep sedation in the terminal phase” is confirmed, provided it is “clinically motivated” and performed “with the consensus of the patient”, prior to “full and appropriate information to family members”, “excluding the deliberate intention of euthanasia, and having enabled the terminally ill to fulfil his moral, and religious duties as well as those involving his family.” Finally, palliative treatment in the phases close to the moment of death must be performed “according to correct ethical protocols” and submitted to “constant monitoring”, without ever suspending “basic treatment.”