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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 12:41 GMT
Pope speaks out on treatment of dying
Pope John Paul II
Pope: Illness should be treated with "healthy realism"
Pope John Paul II has spoken against using extreme measures to keep terminally ill people alive.

The Pontiff, a frequent defender of the sanctity of human life, said using medical techniques to preserve a patient's life "at all costs" could be "useless and not fully respectful of the patient".

"Certainly one cannot forget that man is a limited and mortal being," he said on Saturday, addressing a group of doctors specialising in stomach and bowel diseases.

Ventilator machine
Ventilators can keep people alive who would otherwise die
"It's thus necessary to approach the ill with that healthy realism which avoids generating in those who suffer the illusion of medicine's omnipotence," he said.

The 81 year-old Pope has struggled persistently against ill health, suffering from a hand tremor and slurred speech caused by Parkinson's disease.

He also had surgery 10 years ago on a bowel tumour which doctors thought was about to turn cancerous.

The Vatican has consistently opposed euthanasia - the assisted suicide of the terminally ill, as well as abortion and research on human embryos.

"A free and virtuous society ... must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death," the pontiff said last year in discussions with President George W Bush.

Spiritual concerns

Catholic leaders have said the Pope's statement does not represent a change in doctrine.

An editorial in the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, on Saturday denounced euthanasia as a "crime against life".

In some cases, however, continuing medical treatment is seen as intervention in natural processes, as in a "right to die" ruling by a British judge this week, upholding a paralysed woman's right to refuse the use of the life support machine keeping her alive.

The Pope told the doctors that in some situations it was "presumptuous" to rely only on scientific techniques and care for the dying "must take into account not only the body but also the spirit."

See also:

23 Jul 01 | Europe
Pope warns Bush on stem cells
27 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
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