Care, with compassion, until the end
Inter-religious statement on euthanasia
The debate currently underway in Portugal about what has been labelled “assisted death” invites all of us to reflect and offer their contribution to enrich a process of dialogue which requires the intervention of all social agents. The religious traditions bear a message about the life and death of man, as well as the model of society we build, and it is both legitimate and necessary that they present this message with freedom and humility.
At a time when Parliament debates and prepares to vote on proposals for a possible law on euthanasia, we, the undersigned religious communities present in Portugal, having gathered to discuss and reflect together, and aware that we are living moments of great importance for our time collective future, do declare:
1. The dignity of those who suffer
We believe that each human being is unique and, as such, irreplaceable and necessary to the society of which he or she is a part, bestowed with an intrinsic dignity which is prior to any criteria of quality of life or usefulness, until the time of natural death. Not only does life not lose its dignity as it draws to its end, but the vulnerability with which it is clothed in this stage is, rather, a badge of special dignity which requires proximity and care. We do believe that suffering should be avoided if possible and, therefore, we give thanks for the fact that medical and pharmacological sciences have developed to such an extent that they allow for an effective relief of pain and promotion of well-being. However, we do not ignore the dramatic nature of suffering and the difficulty in finding meaning in continued life. We are aware that religion offers the possibility of meaning to those who believe, but we also know, from experience in accompanying so many who are not religious, that belief is not a necessary condition to finding meaning in one’s own suffering. With these our brothers we learn, indeed, that this task represents one of the greatest achievements of personal dignity. One’s dignity does not depend on anything other than existence as a person and personal autonomy cannot be emptied of its social meaning.
2. For a merciful and compassionate society
The suffering at the end of life is a spiritual challenge for each individual and an ethical challenge for society as a whole. Principles such as mercy and compassion are common to the different religious traditions and, over the history of civilization, have given rise to social models capable of creating, in each period, precise ways of accompanying and caring for the most fragile members of society. Today, human death is one of the areas which challenges us. What is asked of us is not that we give up on those living their final stages of life, by offering them the legal possibility of death, which can be the result of suffering without adequate care. It is this suffering which is truly unbearable and which gives rise to the will to die. It is the fruit of a society which abandons, which loses its humanity and becomes indifferent. Our beliefs in this respect are confirmed by our experience that people who are properly accompanied neither despair nor ask to die. What is asked of us, therefore, is that we commit ourselves more deeply to those who are living through this stage, taking upon ourselves the necessity of offering them a humane and accompanied death.
3. Palliative Care, a necessity which cannot be delayed
We believe that palliative care is the most complete expression of this service which the state is obliged to give, since it results from the highest technical and scientific skill and competence in compassion, both of which are needed when dealing with people in the final stage of life. True compassion does not insist on futile treatment in an attempt to prolong life, but helps people to experience their own death as humanely as possible, recognising that it is only natural. Palliative care values a person until their natural end, alleviating their suffering, fighting off loneliness through the presence of family and other loved ones. We ask Portuguese society to rise up to this challenge, which can no longer be postponed, of making palliative care available to all, and we take upon ourselves the task of doing all that we possibly can to participate in this national effort. We cannot help but to ask if this current debate, preceding as it does an investment in proper palliative care, does not betray a lack of truth.
Religious traditions profess that life is a precious gift, with Abrahamic religions stressing that it is a gift from God and, as such, sacred in nature; but this only confirms its natural dignity, from whence stem its inherent inviolability and unavailability which, therefore, do not rest on religious foundations. But religion does give life a meaning, a hope and other possibilities of transcendence. Societies need this vision of man to stand alongside all the others which exist.
We, the religious communities present in Portugal, believe that life is inviolable until natural death and we share the belief in a compassionate model of society. For this reason, in the name of humanity and the future of the human community, we feel called to take part in the current debate on assisted death, to express our opposition to its legalisation under any of its forms, be it assisted suicide or euthanasia. Therefore we put our names to this common statement.
Lisbon, May 16th, 2018
Portuguese Evangelical Alliance - Pastor Jorge Humberto, representing the president Pedro Calaim
Portuguese Hindu Community – Mr Kiritkumar Bachu
Islamic Community of Lisbon – Sheikh David Munir
Israeli Community of Lisbon – Rabbi Natan Peres
Catholic Church – Cardinal Patriarch D. Manuel Clemente
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople – Archpriest Ivan Moody
Portuguese Buddhist Union – Diogo Lopes
Portuguese Union of Seventh Day Adventists – Pastor António Carvalho, representing the president, pastor António Amorim